Dad's Cooking by Jack Horne
Illustrated by Sue Babcock
Skidding on the squelching mud and ignoring scratches from brambles, I chased after my new football. Finally, I saw it come to a halt by a tree. Smiling with relief, I ran towards it and then stopped in horror as a hand reached out.
“Hey – that’s my ball,” I panted, nearing the tree.
A hideous face peered out at me, making me gasp. It was battered and bruised beyond recognition – and only vaguely looked human.
“Could I have my ball, please, sir?” I asked, attempting a smile.
To my amazement, the man began gnawing at my football. I tried to snatch it, but he snarled like a dog, revealing vicious-looking teeth. I stepped back, wondering if he had escaped from a mental hospital. My mum had always told me not to speak to strangers, but the strange man was clearly injured.
“What happened to you?” I asked. “Are you in pain?”
He continued to bite my football. I remembered my lunch in the pocket of my shorts and offered it to him.
“Dad made this pasty,” I said. “I’m afraid his cooking’s awful, but it must be tastier than” – I eyed my deflated football – “that.”
He grabbed the rock hard pasty and swallowed it whole.
“You really must have been hungry,” I said. “My dad’s the worst cook in the world.”
I suddenly noticed that his cuts began to heal as I spoke. He reached for a book in his pocket and slowly said, “Thank you for the medicine, boy.”
“No, that wasn’t medicine - it tastes like it, though,” I laughed. “My name’s James.” I eyed his phrase book. “I can’t place your accent, where are you from?”
He opened the book again and was about to answer when we heard the whirr of a helicopter overhead. He began frantically tearing at branches and attempted to cover himself.
“Are you in some sort of trouble with the police?” I asked, seeing just his frightened eyes peering at me from under his camouflage.
I heard a rustle of pages before he answered. “My spaceship crashed. Your people took it. They are looking for me and my crew.”
“Spaceship?” I laughed and then remembered the way he’d eaten my football. “Wow, you really are an alien! Of course I’ll help you,” I said.
“I cannot walk,” he said after consulting his book. “I need more medicine to mend my legs.”
“Dad’s cooking won’t help mend your broken legs,” I said. “It’ll just make you ill.”
On his insistence, I finally agreed. “Okay, wait here - I promise I’ll come back with more of Dad’s…efforts.”
My father had laid out a flat biscuit of a sponge cake on a cooling rack. I knew he would be angry when he discovered it was missing – although, no one else would mind. I stuffed it under my T-shirt and quietly closed the front door behind me.
I proffered the sponge cake and a hand shot out from the pile of branches and leaves.
“It’ll probably just break your teeth,” I said, but I watched in amazement as the camouflage was thrown off and he stood upright.
“Thank you for that medicine.” He again consulted his book. “Will you help my crew?”
“What can I do? Give them Dad’s cooking too?” I waited for his reply and said, “Okay, I’ll bring some buns tonight.”
The helicopter passed overhead again. His eyes huge with fright, the alien grabbed my hand and leapt up into the trees.
I laughed with excitement. “How high can you jump?”
He searched for his phrasebook and realised it had fallen from his pocket. He gestured wildly, pointing to it on the ground below.
“With that search helicopter up there you can’t climb down, right?” I said, knowing he wouldn’t understand my words. “Okay, I’ll go down to get it.”
I looked at the ground below and froze. I suddenly realised how far I could fall – and knew my father’s cooking wouldn’t heal me. I closed my eyes and clung to a branch, my limbs shaking. I imagined the boys in my class standing below, ready to laugh at me, and I slowly began the descent. I glanced back up at him and he smiled, uttering unintelligible sentences of encouragement.
“Termite,” he said as he saw me safely pocket the book.
“Yes, tonight,” I said, grinning.
Later that night, I crept from my home. Literally afraid of my own shadow, I kept looking over my shoulder. The park gates were locked but I crawled in under the bushes and made my way to the tree.
“It’s okay – it’s me,” I whispered.
In less than a second I was surrounded by aliens. They were little more than three silhouettes in the dusk, but judging by the way two were limping, they were injured.
The tallest one didn’t need to use a phrasebook. “Yanzero” – he gestured to my friend – “told us you would bring medicine.”
I held out my dad’s heavy fairy buns and they were eagerly swallowed.
“Dad’s medicine is the most powerful in the universe,” the tall one continued, clearly healed. “We have signalled for the mother ship to take us home and must take Dad back with us.”
“No,” I cried, and looked to my friend for help. “I need my dad. He looks after my sister and me. He’s all we have” – my lip quivered – “since my mum died.”
He and the tall alien exchanged a babble of words and then the third alien spoke. “We leave Dad. You give us medicine. We give you jewels. Yes?”
I nodded. “Yes, you can have everything he cooks for the rest of his life!”
My father was pleasantly surprised to learn that his culinary skills were appreciated, and he stared in disbelief when he saw the overflowing casket of treasure that the aliens offered in return for his efforts.
“We will give you one of these every time we visit,” my friend promised, consulting his phrase book.
Dad happily gave up his job at the factory to become the revered medicine man of the universe.
From that day on, as I toyed with my inedible food, I always remembered that I was eating the elixir of life – although, it just makes earthlings sick!
Author Bio: Jack Horne is married and lives in Plymouth, England, where he works for the local theatre. Quite a few of his short stories, poems and articles have appeared in magazines,anthologies, and webzines, and have also been read out on the radio. He’s had some competition success too.