He was about three bites into the cake when it occurred to him that perhaps it had really and truly been poisoned. As a matter of fact, if he thought about the matter a little deeper, he would find that he could not quite remember how he had gotten to the table — if someone else had set it for him or if there was an alternative at the present moment to his sitting there. It was a nice table, certainly, featuring intricate carvings with its wood stained a deep sienna. The chair he sat upon was similarly ornate, the kind that one would take several glances at in an antique store but never think to actually purchase. There was no plate beneath the cake, just crumbs of chocolate sponge falling beneath the bites he had scooped from it with a small fork.
The reason, you ask, why the cake might be poisoned? Well, scrawled in blue ink upon crinkled yellow paper beside the cake were the words, ‘Delicious, probably. Definitely poisoned. Do. Not. Eat.’ The warning seemed cryptic, even droll in nature, so while he at first resolved not to taste the cake, it was not long before a small bite slipped past his lips. Surely no one would leave behind a poisoned cake for another to sit in front of. The note must have been an act of self-preservation — the writer wanted to keep the ‘poison’ all to themself and thus scribbled a little white lie. They probably had also fuddled the recipe to back up the claim, if prompted, for data as well.
The first bite came easily. The warmth of chocolate, cream and butter melted on his tongue and traveled easily to his stomach. Could anything so natural and sweet be harmful? The second bite went down just as smoothly, but, as mentioned before, the third bite brought about the first seeds of doubt. A pang in his stomach rose alarms, and he paused to ponder its cause. Well, he had experienced stomach pangs in his life and survived them before — some might say pain in the stomach is only natural in the presence of rich foods. He dug on.
When the cake was nearly halfway finished, the stomach pain reached a level of static discomfort. He had a rather impressive pain tolerance — having lived through appendicitis before — so the persistent tugging in his intestines did not yet raise concern.
In this odd room there was also a wastebasket, the only other piece of furniture in sight. He easily could have stopped eating and thrown the cake away. He could have stopped eating and left it right there on the wood. But for some reason, once he had started chewing, he found it nearly impossible to stop. The decadence dripping down his throat, the warmth of homemade sweets, the smell of chocolate reaching his nose as he gulped each bite — the thought of the consequences for the treat simply evaded his consciousness. He wasn’t thinking about the children at home undoubtedly waiting for him to return that evening or about the children’s future children who would live their hypothetical lives absent of a grandfather — one could say he was not really thinking about the future at all.
As he reached the last quarter of the cake, each bite more clearly affirmed that the cake had really and truly been poisoned. The buzzing feeling in his stomach and head reached a level now foreign. Was this the sensation of death in his bloodstream? All that talk about what was ‘natural’ seemed to fly out the window. It was the sinking in his chest that felt the most debilitating of all.
Perhaps he could have been saved if he’d thought to stop and call a hospital. At the time of his realization, he had not quite reached that critical level. There was probably still time to reverse what had been done to his system. At the very least, shouldn’t he have thought to stop eating? The thought did occur to him, it turns out, and he indeed considered it deeply, but it simply seemed much easier to finish what he had started and to let fate take its toll. Perhaps he thought, upon discovery of his lifeless form, some miraculous feat of human ingenuity could revive him. Perhaps he thought himself a sacrifice of this mystery cake’s divine wrath. No matter his reason for doing so, the man, chewing much slower now, finished his meal to the very last gram. Resigned, relaxed, he wiped the crumbs from his face with his left wrist.
Sarena Kuhn is the assistant Weekender editor. Contact her at [email protected].