John sat at the table and prodded his meal with a spoon. The walls of the restaurant were dark red, the color of hot tomato soup, and the light above the table hung so close to his head that he felt as though he might bump it if he leaned down to take a bite.

“I can’t eat this.”

John looked up at Eliza, her arms folded as she leaned back in her seat. “It’s too hot.”

John groaned. “You always say that.”

“It’s too hot,” said Eliza. “Do you want me to burn to death? Take it back and have them make me a new one.”

The buzzing of the light scraped at the back of his head.

“Alright,” said John, reaching forward and grabbing the plate. “I’ll be back in a hot second.”

He stood up from his seat and headed toward the back of the restaurant. All the other tables were empty, except for the one where Eliza sat, watching him expectantly as he brought the dish back to the kitchen. He stepped across an overturned chair, being careful not to spill the dish he was holding. The cicada buzz of the light stuck in his head as he walked away.

The entrance to the hallway was small, but he could fit. The kitchen was right through here, he knew. Just had to bring the plate in, get a new one, and then he could enjoy his dinner. It would be easy.

The carpet in the hall was thick, strands of brown yarn reaching up to grab at John’s feet as he passed by. It was harder to walk here than in the main room. He wished he hadn’t worn such nice shoes for his date; now they were just getting tangled up in the rug.

The wide ceramic plate in his hand was getting heavier and heavier. He switched hands, blowing on his free palm to cool it off. She was right, it really was too hot. It was just a little bit farther until he could give it back to the kitchen.

Then, in front of him, the hallway twisted apart, branching out into two paths. On the right side, the carpet was too thick to walk through. John kept to the left as he continued along. They really need to mow here more often, he chuckled to himself.

The buzzing had become more of a throbbing now. It would pulse, then let up for a second, then return even stronger before receding once again. John looked at the dish in his hand. The scalding waves of heat flowing out from it filled his head with overwhelming noise. It was so hot. He would just set it down for a second, then he would be back on his way.

But as soon as the plate touched the carpet, it began to slide away from him. John’s heart throbbed. He couldn’t lose it, not now. Stumbling forward, he clawed at the plate, but it was too big, too heavy, too hot for him to grab. It slipped down the hallway, going faster and faster as John gave chase.

The dish skidded down the hallway, twisting and turning as John pursued it. Every so often, he would get close enough to touch it, but he couldn’t move his arms fast enough and it would slip from his grasp. Then, right as John was about to catch it with both hands, the plate slid under a crack in the wall.

No! He couldn’t let it escape. Maybe if he kept running, he could grab it as it came out the other side of the wall.

John ran as fast as he could, shoes still straining against the deep carpet. The walls closed in on either side, brushing against his arms as he ran. It was so tight, and so hot. Too hot.

Finally John came to a fork in the road. One went up and one went down. No way of knowing which to choose. He stood there, frozen. But the throbbing in his head reminded him that he couldn’t stand still. Keep running.

His shoes strained at his feet before suddenly, with a sickening pop, they both came off. He was just in his socks now. He knew the shoes were trapped in the carpet behind him, but he couldn’t turn back to look, couldn’t stop running or the throbbing would catch up to him.

The hall curved up and down, left and right and slowed John all the way. He wasn’t going fast enough. He could feel the throbbing from behind him, getting closer, closer, hotter, hotter. Too hot. Too hot in here.

And then he saw it. There, at the end of the hallway, was the telephone. The cool, bright, shining telephone that would solve everything. Agonizingly slowly, like walking through a pool of molasses, he treaded to the phone. He picked it up and, though he could barely hear himself over the throbbing in his head, spoke.

“Hello? My meal is too hot. You have to make me a new one.”


John dropped the phone and stared, the receiver swinging listlessly by its cord. No. No this couldn’t be it—

The throbbing stopped.


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