Fuck, it smelled so good. Marty had to pause for a moment to appreciate the ecstasy of the scent.
“Shit!” he said aloud. Suddenly he became hyper-aware of just how smelly it was. It’s too much. The neighbors can probably smell it in their apartments.
He jolted to the front door, making sure that a towel was crammed snuggly underneath the wood, blocking any gaps the smell might escape through. Why did something illegal have to produce such a pungent odor?
But who was he kidding? The smell was half the reason he liked it so much.
Marty had to calm himself down a little bit. It was a victimless crime. Who cared what he did in the solitude of his own apartment on his day off? Suddenly, a rapid knocking on the door. Damn it!
Again he ran to the door, this time pressing one wide eye to the peephole. Two men were standing on the other side, the one he recognized was dressed in a hoodie, beanie, and baggy jeans. The other one was a stranger, a little preppy, wearing khaki shorts and polo shirt. He opened the door and gestured them hurriedly into the apartment before shutting the door, locking it, and so carefully jamming the towel back into place.
“Ronny, ’sup, dude!” Marty turned his hand into a rock and slammed it against his friend’s. He pointed a finger, “Who’s your friend?”
“’Sup, bro, this is Kennedy. He’s chill I promise.” Ronny’s voice was calm and slow.
“All right, sure, man, I just don’t want this apartment to end up like the last place. I can’t be bringing around tons of people anymore.”
“For sure, bro, for sure. Damn, it smells dank in here.” Ronny rubbed his hands together.
“Can you guys smell it in the hallway? How bad is it?” Marty’s anxiety slowly came back to him.
Kennedy chimed in, “Dude, it smells like fuckin’ baked chicken out there. We could smell it coming into the building on the bottom floor.”
Marty ran over to the oven. He could see his meal almost done, just reaching a beautiful golden brown. An entire chicken lay in a large pan standing triumphantly inside the oven. The food itself had no idea just how much trouble it could get the three of them into.
“Well, it’s almost done,” Marty said. “There’s no getting rid of the smell now, so we might as well not worry about it.
“S’all good, bro,” Ronny said. “In this part of town no one’s going to think twice about a little chicken smell. Smells hella dank though. You got some butter and herbs and shit? I can hardly wait to partake.”
“Yeah…” Marty said. Here comes the awkward part. “So did you guys bring any pitch? I mean, I’m happy to share and all, but it’s expensive ya know?”
“Sorry, bro,” Ronny replied. “I’m fresh out. I used the last of what I had last weekend when we went crazy on the Brazilian shit. Kennedy’s got some though.”
“That’s right,” Kennedy said. “It’s not a lot, but I’ve got a little bacon I’ve been saving for a while now. Gotta eat it before it goes bad.”
Kennedy unzipped his backpack and pulled out a mason jar. Inside it, triple wrapped in plastic wrap, were four pieces of uncooked, pure bacon.
Marty couldn’t resist. “Could I grab a little smell of that, man?”
Kennedy unscrewed the lid and held the jar toward Marty. Marty inhaled deeply. He knew that some people who had never tried meat before thought that it all smelled terrible, but he had been an enthusiast for so long now that he could appreciate the smell. There was a difference between the way different kinds of a meat smelled. Pork was sultry and sinful, beef smells kinda earthy and metallic, and chicken, when baked, smelled like pure heaven.
“Oh, that’s some good shit man. Here, I’ve got a frying pan somewhere you can get cooking with.”
The frying pan Marty used for meat was hidden, very cleverly, underneath the left side of the sink behind the unwrapped packages of toilet paper and underneath a few kitchen rags. He ran his fingers over the surface of the pan. It was covered in soft jelly-like bumps that moved away from his touch.
“Yeah it hasn’t been cleaned in a while,” Marty said. “But I don’t mind a little meat-resin if you don’t.”
“Not at all,” Kennedy said, greedily grabbing the pan and throwing in his bacon.
“Bro,” Ronny said. “You should, like, get something to cover the smell. If anyone walked in here, they would know what you’re doing right away.”
“Oh, dude, you just reminded me.” Marty ran into his bedroom and came back out holding a purple candle. “I bought this at the store yesterday, it’s Lavender Fields.” He put it on the kitchen counter and lit the fuse.
An alarm blared like a siren’s call, coming from the oven. Marty drew back the door and was greeted by the smell of rosemary and thyme, salt and butter, and flaky chicken skin, all of it wafting in an invisible, hot cloud and into Marty’s nose. He closed his eyes a moment just enjoying the impact on his senses.
Marty grabbed a hot pad and delivered his precious creation onto the dining room table.
“Bacon’s almost done,” Kennedy said, his voice distorted through the sound of grease sizzling in the pan.
“Hey, Ronny,” Marty said. “Think you could set the table, seeing as your lazy ass isn’t doing anything?”
“Yeah, bro, of course.” Ronny grabbed the plates from the cabinets and silverware from the drawer. He laid them out in a triangle around the chicken. He forgot to set out water or cups for anyone.
Marty and Ronny sat down and scooted close to the table, both of them dripping saliva like hungry dogs. Kennedy ran over with his small side of bacon and joined them with equal enthusiasm.
“Well, let’s dig in guys,” Marty said. He ripped a leg off the chicken like a lion in the Savannah might do to a zebra. Then he claimed a huge portion off the breast and a piece of bacon.
The taste was divine, like a salty, butter-smothered, slice of heaven with the fat still on it. He hadn’t had any meat for about a week now, and he could feel the endorphins kicking in. Marty thought back to the first time he tried meat. He was with some friends in high school whose parents didn’t mind. Thinking about it now, it was likely that they were dealers themselves. He remembered his first thought, How could this be illegal when it makes you feel so good?
Ronny spoke with a full mouth, “This is some good cooking, bro. Where’d you learn to bake chicken like this? You’ve fuckin’ turned it into an art!”
“Believe it or not, I found a cookbook that still had recipes for meat dishes at my grandma’s house. She has, like, a storage room in the basement with a bunch of ancient shit from decades ago. I was laughing, man. She probably didn’t even know she had it.”
“Ha!” Kennedy busted out laughing. “Just think of an old lady cookin’ some meat at home. Then the cops come over and arrest her and take her to jail!”
“That would happen bro,” Ronny said. “They don’t care how old you are. It’s fuckin’ stupid, though. They should just legalize it already. So many people eat it these days.”
“Yeah, well, it all has to do with the animals, you know?” Marty said. “I get their logic and everything, I just think it’s ridiculous to put it on the same level as heroin, which can kill you, ya know? And if we were in Texas, you could eat it recreationally just fine.”
“Yeah it’s bullshit,” Ronny said. “Like, here we are, just a couple of dudes. We’re not out causing hell in public or injuring anyone, but of course we can go to jail for like thirty years or something if we’re caught with a little pork. Fuckin’ backwards country, man.”
“Yeah,” Kennedy chimed in again. “My friend was pulled over the other day because one of his brake lights was burned out. But they ended up arresting him because they found a little bit of beef jerky in his backpack.”
“Geez, those cops have noth—”
KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.
Marty was cut off by three precise pounds that shook the door on its hinges.
The three of them looked around at each other. It grew obvious that none of them were expecting company.
His heart was in his throat. Marty stood up and walked over to the door, no reason to freak out. He pushed his eye up to the peephole… SHIT! He looked back to his friends and mouthed, “It’s the cops.” Kennedy bolted from his seat and ran into Marty’s bedroom, shutting the door behind him. Ronny put his face between his hands.
Marty opened the door in a crack just big enough to show his face and no more.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Is this your apartment?” the first police officer asked.
The officer wore sunglasses that looked straight through Marty’s eyes and into his guilt.
“We got a little phone call from your neighbors. Seems they’ve reported some, uh, savory scents? I’m going to be honest with you, boy, we smelled the same thing as soon as we came into the building.”
“Yeahhh, uhh, I smelled that too actually. I don’t know what it is, maybe a dumpster fire behind the building…”
“We can smell it on your breath, sir,” the second officer said through his mustache.
Marty knew that he was going to lose this argument. He closed his eyes and stood speechless for a moment looking down.
“Look,” the officer in sunglasses said. “I know that they recently legalized recreational animal protein in Texas, but it’s still illegal here. You might not realize it, but when you buy your meat, you are supporting illicit cartels, which in turn supports child labor and other horrible crimes.”
Marty had heard all of this before and knew it wasn’t true. He wanted to tell the cops that his dealer only bought from small meat farms in Texas that treated the animals like family. He wanted to tell them that he was supporting local business and creating job opportunities for people. He just wanted them to know that he wasn’t a bad person; he didn’t belong in jail. But, of course, they wouldn’t want to hear about that.
“You seem like a good kid,” the mustached officer said. “So why don’t you let us inside. Show us where you’re hiding any animal protein and any paraphernalia you have, we’ll take it away, and give you a court date. Who knows, we might even throw in a good word for ya.”
He smiled as if they could now, somehow, be friends. Like all Marty had to do was agree to throw his life away and they could be good ol’ chums. Defeated, he opened the door and waved them in.
He turned around and… No. Fucking. Way.
The table was devoid of any food at all. The pan in the middle was now full of spotless bones, the side dish of bacon empty and licked clean of any grease. Not a spare chunk was on any plate, even upon inspecting of the silverware, not a smidgen of flesh to be found. And there, sitting with an enormous grin and rubbing his belly, was Ronny. The smell was still there, sure, but any molecule of meat had been terminated.
“As you can see officers, there’s no meat here,” Marty said, now with a confident inflection.
“It’s like he said,” Ronny spoke up, “I think there was a dumpster fire out back or something.”
The officer took off his sunglasses and got right in Marty’s face, sneering.
“You still have chicken bones on your table for Christ’s sake! There might not be any meat left for us to take in, but I know what’s going on here. If we get one more phone call, one more reason to come anywhere near this apartment, you better believe we’re coming in with a warrant.”
He threw his sunglasses back onto his face and stormed out the door. The second officer waited for him to leave before saying, “Smell’s sure making me hungry though.” He shut the door behind him.
Marty and Ronny, still on edge, sat back down at the table. After a few minutes of silence, Kennedy came back out of his hiding spot in the bedroom.
“Are they gone?” Kennedy asked.
“Yeah,” Marty said. “Ronny really saved my ass there. They might come back sometime, though. We should be more careful.”
“Don’t worry about it, bro,” Ronny said. “It’ll be legal in year.”
Cael Campbell is a fiction writer from Salt Lake City, Utah. He has studied writing at the University of Utah and worked with the League of Utah Writers, Salt City Genre Writers chapter. He has been inspired by the odd occurrences that happen in this strange mountain city.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Protein”:
We loved this wonderful satire and how author Cael Campbell sucked us into thinking that this was just another pot-smoker piece before he turns the tables on us with the line: “Dude, it smells like fuckin’ baked chicken out there.” And the bacon was the perfect complement to the chicken. We especially liked the poke at Texas where the laws tend to be rather strict. No deep meanings in this one, just a fun little piece that takes us in an unexpected direction—exactly what we look for.