You Are What You Eat

You Are What You Eat

A Story by D. E.

Justin likes to visit his friend Lenny, but Lenny has a secret.


Lenny was a man who loved to talk, at length, whether you liked it or not. "A man of a thousand and one stories" as he called himself. Given the chance, he would tell about the time he first felt a woman's breast, his run in the peace corps, even the time he caught his dick in his zipper. Not many people in town cared much for Lenny, especially after the power plant incident, but I thought he was great. I would go to his house on Saturdays and he would recount all the things he had seen and done, always accompanied with some new exotic snack he had picked up in some other country.

One Saturday, between school and church it was my only free day, I arrived at his house just around noon like usual. I dropped my bike in his untended lawn and took the broken concrete walk up to his dingy yellow house. The paint on the door, like the rest of the house, was peeling badly and the single window was cracked. The inside, however, would be filled with interesting artifacts from everywhere. The people passing by would give me concerned looks, but they never said anything as I stood outside his door. I could never figure out why they didn't like him and so I had decided to ask him.

It took a little longer for him to answer the door that day, and when he did he looked troubled, shaky. He was thin, maybe six feet tall, and he looked like the guy you would beat up in high school, if that was your thing. His greasy, hair that hung in a bowl cut and used to be black, now showed signs of gray. His dark eyes had even darker bags clinging to them, and when he showed his yellow teeth his smile seemed fake, but it was a smile and that was good enough.

"Justin! I was wondering why I had the urge to make a snack and then thought to myself, It must be Saturday. Come in, get comfy." He turned and motioned for me to follow. The inside of his house was filled with oddities that you could only find in a rest stop freak show. Shrunken heads, bayonets, a witch doctor mask, props from various movies from when he was a janitor at a studio, and the best was the bug terrarium in the basement. "How was school this week?" he inquired as I sat on the couch and he took the chair opposite.

"Sucked, as usual." He gave a heavy chuckle at this and motioned to the bowl of small mysterious brown snacks and can of Shock Cola in front of me. I took a handful of the snack and popped one in my mouth. My face must have given away my enjoyment.

"Glad you like 'em. That one there is my favorite. I think I eat that one more than any other."

"I can see why, these are great." I said sipping at the cola. His face turned to a slight frown.

"Did I ever tell you about the time I worked in a canning plant?"

"And that guy got caught in the machine and ended up in fifty cans of beans."

"So I did. What about the first girl I ever….."

"Betty Harding."

"Hmmm, maybe I'm out of stories."

"I think you have one left." I watched his face twist in displeasure, but I was prepared to push it. "What happened at the power plant Lenny?" He took a long breath and let it out with a tremble. "Why does everyone look at you the way they do?"

"Well," he swallowed hard. "My reputation wasn't sparkling to begin with and when you're the only survivor of a major catastrophe, people just need somewhere to place their sorrow, and sometimes blame. I didn't cause it, and they never could prove I did, but when I came out of there I didn't have a single thing wrong with me. They said there should have been radiation burns, sickness, death, something. I was fine, plain and simple.

"I was a janitor there, I've been a janitor at a lot of places, easy to do. Like most other places I've been, I was the butt of a lot of jokes. Been that way all my life, don't bother me none. I'd show up and they would make fun of my jumpsuit, or walk by and knock the mop out of my hand, but I didn't care. I never wished any of 'em any harm. All that torment made me a suspect."

"That, and actually surviving." I chimed in.

"True, had I died it would have gone down as a terrible accident. It was an accident mind you. I was eating lunch…" he pointed at the salty snack I was still enjoying. "that one there actually. I had it almost everyday. Anyway, as I'm eating lunch the alarm sounds. 'This is not a drill' type stuff, but by the time we heard the damned thing it was too late. The core had overloaded and the radiation was all over us, and the doses had to be unthinkable. People were getting sick, running and puking everywhere, falling down dead in the halls, being trampled, it was horrifying." As I listened I kept eating and finished off my Shock Cola, he didn't notice when I got up to get another. He stared blankly and kept on with his story.

"I should have died there that day, I was the farthest from any exit and damned close to the reactor. I shouldn't be here Justin, you shouldn't know me, I should have been a casualty. I used to thank God for saving me, used to thank him every day. I don't thank him anymore, the sickness has caught up with me……in a way." A tear streamed from his eye and clung to his chin for just a second before letting go.

"They say that only roaches will survive a nuclear war, I've been thinking about that. I've also been thinking about my mom and the crazy stuff she used to tell me. 'Cleanliness is next to Godliness' she would say, stuff like that. The one that really sticks out though is 'You are what you eat'." At this he started laughing hysterically. "You are what you eat." The hand that was in the process of scooping another load of the snack into my mouth fell and I suddenly felt sick.

"You are what you eat." My mind turned over a hundred thoughts at once. Roaches and nuclear bombs, the bug terrarium in the basement, the snack. All the while he kept going. "You are what you eat, YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT!!!" His shaking hands leapt to his face and started to claw at the flesh there. As it fell away it was replaced by something like a shell, something waiting underneath it all, waiting to get out. "YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT!!!"

Suddenly I understood, though it was too late, he wanted to be human again.

© 2008 D. E.

My Review

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Great tension, and a fantastic ending � this is very well done.

I would suggest mentioning the nuclear plant accident in the first paragraph (or at least as soon as you can) so that the reader gets a better hint of what is in store. Horror really should start with the action, then go back to tell the back-story. I would have just liked a more forceful opening, and I think it would be as simple as moving that one tiny fact to the front.

"One Saturday, between school and church it was my only free day, I arrived at his house just around noon like usual." This sentence is a bit awkward. Take out between the commas; you don't need to give us your motivation for going on a Saturday unless it is pertinent to the story, which it is not =).

"Anyway, as I'm eating lunch the alarm sounds." Tense switch. Everything has been past tense and now it is present. Even though it is dialog, and your CHARACTER may speak this way, it is best to write it consistently so that it doesn't distract the reader. I'd suggest, "Anyway, I was eating lunch when the alarm sounded."

I really loved the creativity and originality of this story. It felt like I was watching an episode of The Outer Limits (which, by the way, is my favorite kind of horror). You have great descriptions, and give just enough detail to intrigue me without overburdening the story with unnecessary filling (the "salty snack" and bug terrarium stick out particularly).

This was a great read!

Posted 14 Years Ago

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Added on February 5, 2008


D. E.
D. E.


I live in Kentucky with my wife and children. I'm a musician of sorts, but I have found that writing takes me to a whole new level even if it isn't the greatest. more..

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