From the author: A piece I wrote in response to a personal rejection from another story where the editor told me it was good, but there wasn't enough different and new for him. "I'll do something different," I said and thought up the weirdest phrases I could, until I landed on "edible elevator." I ended up with a bleak and horrific dystopian SF piece about conspicuous consumption in a world where everything and everyone is edible. Originally published in issue 7 of the ever-wonderful Broadswords and Blasters.
The elevator wobbled down to floor level before it bumped on arrival and dissolved into a cascade of tiny balls. The attendant nodded to me as I began walking away, then he walked over to the stockpile of small orbs next to where the elevator had touched down and took a handful, plopping one into his mouth then burying one into the ground where the elevator once was. With a pop a miniature elevator burst out of the dirt and started growing.
The road from the elevator wound its way through the park. As I walked I could see people lounging on blankets. They were eating their plates, the grass, their blankets. Everyone was young and vibrant. A seascape of beautiful young people. I looked over to my left, where one couple was smiling at each other as they sawed off one-another’s arms and began chewing happily as the wounds closed up and small new limbs began to grow.
I arrived at the Rejuv© clinic. A sign hung overhead with an anthropomorphized wrinkled apple cutting away her skin to reveal fresh fruit underneath. Inside I placed my hand on the biometric scanner by the reception desk to check in, nodding at the receptionist who just smiled and looked back down at her magazine. I sat down on a chair in the waiting room and broke off a piece of the arm rest to nibble on until it was time for my appointment.
I got called back by the receptionist to an exam room where I lay down on a table. Relaxing music was piped in through hidden speakers. My doctor sauntered in snapping on a pair of gloves as he chewed and swallowed down his old pair. “Alright, Mr. Evergreen! Just a standard rejuvenation treatment, correct?”
I nodded and closed my eyes. The doctor began to cut into my skin, taking everything off down to the muscle over my entire body. There was a tingling as tissue began to grow back and plopping noises as the doctor stuffed the cut off skin into a doggie bag. When everything was finally packed in he began working on my face. I kept my eyes closed because I liked the feeling of the lids being peeled away. There was a sudden surge of light as the doctor peeled the skin around my eyes. “Alright Mr. Evergreen just give it a few minutes to regenerate and you can be on your way. I’ve already packed up your old skin so that you can eat it later. Have a good day now. Be sure to take a moment and drink your water before you go.”
I nodded to him and breathed out suddenly as I felt my face begin to tingle with the feeling of growing tissue. When all the tingling subsided I pushed myself up from the medical table and drank the bottle of water that was sitting on the nightstand next to it. While I ate the bottle I sat down in a chair that looked like those old beauty salon chairs with the head sucker apparatuses that you can see pictures of in the museums. I selected the amount of hair growth I wanted and then sat down. A large purple bowl lowered over my head and I felt small pinpricks as eyebrows and hair began to push their way through my skin. After a minute the bowl raised back up and I looked into the mirror as I swept back my length of thick, wavy blond hair. Damn, I thought to myself, I look good enough to eat. I chuckled at the cheap joke and then picked up the doggy bag and walked back out into the lobby. Again I pressed my hand into the biometric scanner by the reception desk, which lit up green after it processed my payment.
I stepped out onto the curb and hailed a taxi. The driverless machine pulled over and the passenger door flipped open. I sat down and told it my address before I pressed my hand into the scanner on the passenger-side console. After a few moments the console beeped and the car sped off on its way. When the cab pulled up to my apartment and I got out I ripped off the door to have with my dinner.
My first order of business was to head to the bathroom and pinch off a loaf after all that eating I’d done throughout the day. The toilet collected the waste into a container which I then dropped into the repository by the door to be sent off and refined. I went over to the kitchen counter and began slicing up my old skin and placing it on the car door for my dinner.
The TV turned on for the nightly newscast. Sparkling Pete came on the screen.
“Hello, beautiful people!” I whooped out in excitement without even thinking. “Hope you’ve all been eating well and keeping stress-free!” A lens flair glinted off his paper-white teeth. “Today we were able to refine eighty tons of waste into raw materials, all of which will of course go back to you, the people!” I whooped again.
“Only Sixteen folks this month had to be exiled for Rejuv© treatment failure, an unprecedented low! I’m sure soon our fine medical professionals will get the Rejuv© failure rate down to zero! Let’s give them a hand, folks!” I clapped. He went on to tell feel-good stories about cats being rescued from trees and promptly consumed, meet-n-eat speed dating down at the library, homeless being served at the soup kitchen.
The Newscast finished and the broadcast switched to the night’s dramas, equal amounts of commercials mixed in. You can’t EAT your TV, but there are plenty of other things for you to enjoy! Why not get the next best thing and purchase our new line of edible recliners? They regenerate up to 300 times, so you can enjoy them for years to come!” A glimmer of disgust shuddered through me. I wished for just a split second I could turn off the tube. Then I settled back into eating my leftovers and cracking off pieces of the car door. The skin was salty and chewy. The door was sweet and crispy, like a wafer cookie.
The tube slowly started dimming and quieting down. When it turned off completely I knew it was time for bed. I stripped off my clothes and left them all piled on the floor, knowing I’d have a fresh set at the door tomorrow. Knowing most likely I’d eat the old clothes in the morning.
I lay down and drifted to sleep.
Crack! You can’t EAT your TV! Laughter. And, of course, you wouldn’t want to! But our fine scientists are hard at work every day making sure your world steadily gets more beautiful, wonderful, and edible! Upbeat music piped through the tube till I pushed up out of bed and rubbed the grit of sleep from my eyes.
“Shut up already!” I yelled. The music continued, of course. It wouldn’t shut off until either I left the house or 9:00 hit. It was time for morning runs and heading off to work. I was meeting Janice this morning for brunch. Or maybe it was Janine. Janelle? Some damn woman. I munched on last night’s clothes while I thought about what I should wear to meet her. The tube said she was a saucy redhead with wavy hair and green eyes.
I walked over to the door. Hung in garment bags on a hook by my door were a blue checkered suit with a dark purple tie and a steel gray suit with a forest green plaid tie. I took the gray suit and pulled off the dissolvable wrapping, taking a bite. Once I was dressed I walked out of the apartment and down the hall to the elevator. The attendant stood with one hip cocked, slowly chewing.
“What floor, sir?” he asked.
“Ground level, please.”
He swallowed his mouthful and smiled. “Excellent.”
The elevator bobbed down to the ground and broke into a pile of orbs. The attendant popped one into his mouth and started chewing, buried one in the ground. While the new elevator grew he started sweeping the other orbs toward the massive pile on the side of the path.
As always, the sun was beaming down and a light cool breeze was blowing. Beautiful young people sat around eating everything, ran through parks, did young beautiful people things. Boring. Just give me something ugly for once.
The restaurant loomed up ahead of me and I hurried my pace. No matter how bored I got here I was always in the mood for a lady. I looked up from my feet as I started hopping up the stairs to the building and there I saw him. Grimy, unwashed, and wrinkled. His coat looked like it was nylon. Completely inedible. In fact, he looked completely inedible. Did they really eat this shit at the soup kitchen?
He held out his hand. “Spare some, buddy? I ain’t eaten in a while.” I scowled at him. I wanted to spit. Then I smiled. Finally something disgusting.
“Oh you poor man. Don’t you know? Everything’s edible now.” He shook his head. For effect I spat at his feet. “Get your act together before you get eaten.” He shook his head again.
I hopped up the rest of the stairs and then walked into the restaurant. Please sign in. I pressed my hand into the scanner by the hostess’s stand. She then led me to my table. J— was a leggy redhead with big wavy hair and green eyes, and her clothes were sheer enough to see everything clearly in the right lighting.
She ordered a salad with lobster and I got a fisherman’s pie. The food portions were small and we finished them before we’d even said a word.
“So?” I asked, taking a bite of my fork.
“I guess,” she said. She acted disinterested but her mouth turned up at the edge in the faintest hint of a smile. We finished eating everything: silverware, napkins, tablecloth. It’s only polite. We thanked the waiters and hostess and walked outside. The homeless fellow was nowhere to be seen.
“Listen,” I said as we walked. “I’m going to need a little time before we get things going. I’m pretty stuffed.”
“Your metabolism isn’t increased?”
“I opted not to get that. I didn’t want to just be an animal constantly gnawing on things.”
“You’re a strange man,” she said.
“Thanks. So, your place or mine?”
“We could just do it in the park.”
We found a clear spot and sit directly on the grass. I didn’t bring a blanket and evidently neither did she. We sat for a while in quiet.
She straddled me and looked down. “Go on,” she said, ruffling her sheer dress. “Eat it off me.” I leaned in to start taking a bite and caught a couple sitting nearby out of the corner of my eye. “What’s wrong with you? You want to just jump to eating each other?”
“No, it’s just—listen, could we just maybe do this at one of our places? I’ve never been a big fan of doing this stuff in public.”
“Why not? It’s completely normal.”
“Yeah.” I started to push up from the ground. “I’m just a pretty private guy, y’know?”
“Fine. But for all the trouble you have to take me to your place now.”
We walked to my complex and arrived at the elevator just as a new one was starting to grow.
“Gonna be a minute here, boss,” the attendant said, winking at me. J—walked up to the building and broke a piece off. Started nibbling.
“Swanky place,” she said. I nodded and she sauntered back over to the elevator. “Looks like we’re just about ready to head up.” The elevator finished growing and we got in with the attendant. When we reached my floor she ripped a fingernail off and handed it to the attendant with a wink. He blushed and popped it in his mouth.
She whistled when I opened the door to my place. “What flavors do you have for everything?”
“Oh, strawberry carpet, savory furniture, y’know. I made it so the clothes they send me are a different flavor every day. I get so bored otherwise.”
“So you like variety?” She put her arms around me, apparently not wanting an answer to her question. “Alright, we’re all in private now. Start eating.”
I started taking bites out of her dress, her beautiful body revealing itself to be the same kind of body every woman had. Flat, unblemished, smooth, silky, absolutely boring. Not even a beauty mark or mole to break up the landscape. It was nicer when I could only see it through the dress. She bit my thumb and chewed. Then she took the initiative herself to walk over to the kitchen, pull out a knife and start carving off her arm while I watched. Thumping electronic jazz piped in through the tube speakers. I pretended to look interested for her sake. The tingle of my thumb growing back was nice at least.
Pop! Do you DREAM of eating your lover’s ENTIRE body? One day maybe you can! Our scientists are hard at work figuring out how to improve Rejuv© treatments to make it so as long as the brain is left intact, the entire human body will regrow! Double the pleasure, triple the decadence!
Music piped in again even though I had the day off from everything. I looked down at last night’s clothes and sighed. I was just simply not fucking hungry. I picked them up to try and cram them down the waste reclamation tube and Sparkling Pete popped onto the TV screen.
“Hey you! Don’t throw those away! Our fine scientists have given you the gift of gluttony! You should enjoy!”
“Dammit, Pete. Just for today would you please shut up?” His face froze, glitching between frames for a few moments.
Crack! You can’t EAT your TV! But our scientists are hard at work making completely PORTABLE, completely EDIBLE television models. Enjoy the flavors of Sparkling Pete himself!
I sighed. I went to the bathroom to pinch off a loaf, biting off pieces of my clothes and spitting them into the toilet. I collected the tube of waste and clothing pulp and deposited it into the reclamation tube. It jammed for a second before shooting off.
When I reached ground level I start walking to the Rejuv© clinic, thinking a nice tingle and new hairstyle might perk me back up.
“Mr. Evergreen! Nice to see you! Just a walk in today?”
“Yes please.” I pressed my hand into the scanner but it didn’t take.
“That’s strange.” She reset the scanner. “Try again?” I pressed my hand into it again, and again it stayed quiet. “Let me call the doctor and see what he says.” She walked back and mumbled into a phone. She walked out chewing a heavy mouthful. “He says it’s on the house today! Thanks Mr. Evergreen! Have a nice day.”
I nodded and smiled and walked back. The doctor was waiting in the room for me, putting on a fresh pair of gloves.
“Mister Evergreen! Good afternoon! Please, lie down.”
I stripped off my clothes and lay down, keeping my eyes closed so I could enjoy the lids being peeled away. There was the familiar sting of the initial cut and the tug of skin being peeled away, the pop of sudden light when my eyelids came off. The tingle of everything growing back.
“Alright Mister Evergreen, take your time, make sure to drink some water.” He stood up and took my old skin with him. I was glad for that. I didn’t see myself having much of an appetite today. I breathed in deep, finally feeling relaxed. I took my time and drank down my bottle of water before munching on the bottle and walking over to the head sucker machine. This time I decided to go with black hair.
The receptionist waved a silent goodbye as I left. I decided to go back home and relax for a while and then head in to the office and get some cataloging done. I strolled into the elevator and the attendant took me up to my floor. When I went to open my door the lock stayed engaged. I tried again and the lock started flashing red and beeping.
I walked back and called the elevator, heading down into the lobby. I walked into the front office without knocking or waiting.
“Why can’t I get into my room?” I asked.
“Let’s take a look here,” the manager said, clearly flustered that I didn’t wait to barge into her office. “It seems, Mister Evergreen,” she hesitated before continuing. “That you no longer live here.”
“Afraid so. You’ll have to check in to see where you go from here.”
“But they don’t see people for weeks!”
“Sorry, but my hands are tied. When you find out where you are, make sure you contact us and I’ll have your things sent to your new residence.”
I walked out of the building and hailed a taxi. I climbed in and gave it the address to the office building. I pressed my hand into the passenger side console and was met again with no reaction. Please try again, the cab said. I pressed my hand to the scanner one more time and it flashed red. I’m sorry, but it seems I am unable to process payment at this time. Please exit the vehicle.
“Well fuck you too.” I pushed out of the cab and ripped up some of the seat cushion and ripped off the door before the cab could zip off. I took an angry bite out of the door and started chewing.
I took my meal over to a park bench and sat down, pulling out my phone. I swallowed my bite and called the office.
“Hey, what the hell’s going on?”
“I’m sorry, who is this?”
“Oh! I’m sorry Mister Evergreen, but it seems you don’t work here anymore.”
“No idea.” They hung up. I tapped my phone screen to look at the time and felt a twinge of pain. There, stuck to the screen, was the pad of my index finger. I licked it off, not wanting to waste food, and waited for new skin to begin growing. Nothing. I dropped the door and chunk of cab seat, a shudder ripping through me.
I bit off the first digit of my left pinky and started chewing. Again no growth. First digit of the ring finger. Then the middle finger. I kept going until my left hand was turned into a fingerless paddle. No tingling, just a steadily growing ache. I was getting dizzy from blood loss. I leaned down and took a bite out of the arm of the park bench, pushing in close while I chewed. The layers reformed steadily, spiraling out from the center of the arm millimeter by millimeter. So it had to be me, then.
I rushed back to the clinic, falling once or twice, vomiting up everything I’d eaten. I’d never been so uncomfortable. Couples stopped eating each other, packing up their things and leaving in my wake. People cleared a path and pretended not to see me as I stumbled past.
When I got to the Rejuv© clinic I ran past reception and smacked my hand into the first exam room door.
“Doc! Doc, something’s gone wrong.”
The doctor popped his head out from his office, startled. “Evergreen!” He slurped a pair of lips into his mouth, chewed and swallowed. “Just a sec, dear, I’ll be right back.” He turned back to me. “Evergreen, what can I do for you?”
“Something’s happened. I can’t regrow anything.” His eyebrows drew down.
“I see,” he said. “Here, come back to the exam room and I’ll get prepped.” He lead me back to the table and had me drink a bottle of water while I waited. He pulled out a syringe and pushed it into the crook of my arm. “This will help with the pain,” he said. He walked to the back and my vision fogged, pulling me down to sleep.
Crack! You can’t EAT your TV!—
“Let’s just stop that thing right now,” said the doctor, reaching behind his television console and pulling out the wire for sound. He couldn’t go as far as to pull out the other ones. It’d be a little too obvious. Besides, he really only wanted some peace and quiet now and then. Nothing too sinister.
His lover sat bored next to the office desk, ripping pages slowly out of a magazine and plopping them into his mouth.
“I’ll be back soon. Something just got hung up with his treatment.” The man at the desk nodded and winked. His lips were mostly regrown. The doctor walked back out of his office and pulled on a new pair of gloves. He didn’t need to wear them, really he could just cut off his hands and use the freshly grown ones for patients. But he did like the flavor of the gloves, and there was something that made him feel dignified to take part in this archaic ritual. “I really hate when this happens,” he mumbled to himself.
He pushed back into the patient room where Mr. Evergreen now lay sleeping. “Well, Mister Evergreen, I really am sorry,” he said. “Right now we don’t really know how to fix things when the Rejuv© goes wrong.” He pulled a saw out from one of the cabinets. “And I’m afraid that at the moment, I’m required to give you over as a donation.” Evergreen was still in deep sleep.
The doctor held the saw over Evergreen and paused, took a deep sigh. “Hopefully you’ll be the last. Goodbye, Mister Evergreen.” He turned the saw on.
The elevator wobbled down to ground level and exploded into a cascade of tiny balls. The attendant popped one into his mouth and started chewing. He took another over to where the elevator had landed and planted it. Immediately a new elevator began growing.
The woman walked over to the overstocked pile of balls and took a handful, winking at the attendant as she walked away. She plopped one in her mouth and started chewing, a squirt of juice as the skin of the ball broke. Sweet and tangy.
She walked across the street to the soup kitchen. She loved it there, good food without the needless formality of all the restaurants and cafes where she obligatorily met people once a week. Anything for Sparkling Pete, after all.
The kitchen volunteer handed her a wide-mouthed paper cup full of thick stew. An eyeball floated up, looking right at her. She smiled. Eyes were one of her favorite parts and she got them all too rarely. She sat down at a table and lifted the eye up to her mouth with a spoon. The color was just like the eyes of the man she met last week. She never did get to eat any of him, she thought. Maybe this would make up for it.
She lifted the spoon to her mouth and ate. Delicious.
This story originally appeared in Broadswords and Blasters.