's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"Gourmet Quality"

Submitted by Alexis Feynman

I've always had a bad habit of barging into the bathroom unannounced. It probably started when I was a kid, back when all the bathroom doors had locks on them so it wasn't possible to walk in on somebody. A few years later, my parents divorced and Dad and I moved to a house that didn't have locks, but was almost always empty due to Dad's long work hours. So I never broke the habit.

God knows what would have happened if I had.

About six months ago, my dad came home and told me he was getting married again. As you can probably imagine, I didn't take it very well. Not that I was worried about him trying to replace Mom or whatever - Mom was the kind of person we were both better off without. No, what really got to me was that I hadn't even known he was dating, and I said as much.

"Well," he admitted, "we've only been seeing each other for about three weeks. So I didn't get the chance to introduce you to her. But I will, very soon. I think you'll like her, Jamie. She's an amazing person. She'll make a really good stepmom for you."

Oh, great. Here I was, age fourteen - almost an adult! - and Dad thought I still needed a mom in my life.

Still, I decided I should be nice to her. They'd only been dating for three weeks; the engagement would probably fall apart on its own.

They got married a week later.

When Lucinda moved into the house, I'd only met her once, and my impression of her wasn't very good. She was beautiful, sure, and close to my dad's age, which was always a plus. And she wasn't a bad person or anything. But whenever Dad wasn't watching, she seemed to stare at him with this really weird look in her eyes. Like she was hungry. And I thought I saw her eyes moving just a bit - not like normal, but like they were shifting just barely in and out of their sockets. I thought I was just being paranoid, so I didn't say anything.

At first we didn't say much to each other. I spent most of my time in my room when she was in the house, and she never tried very hard to coax me out. It was Dad who had a problem with the arrangement, and insisted that we start having a family dinner every night so that we could get to know one another.

"Family dinner." As if. Me, my dad, and the stepmom I barely knew.

Still, over the next few weeks I learned a lot about Lucinda. She was from Montana, up in the mountains, but had moved to the city to pursue a career in the culinary arts. That was what she did for a living - cooking at one of those fancy restaurants that Dad could never afford to go to. It was incredibly popular, of course - and it was mostly because of her skills. She'd also started making our home meals - and they were amazing, I won't deny it. I don't know what she did but it seemed like Dad and I could never get enough. Lucinda seemed to feel differently - she would just sit there and sort of pick at her meal, more interested in watching Dad or me eat than actually enjoying it herself. I guess that's what happens when you're around such great food all the time.

When she asked me to tell her about myself, I honestly replied that I didn't have much of a story. I was just a high school student, decent grades, no special talents, no real idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life. She asked me if I'd considered going into the culinary arts, said that I had the hands of a great cook. I told her I hadn't really thought about it, and she repeated that I really should look into it.

Man, Dad hadn't told me she was so passionate about food.

Well, one thing led to another and before long I was in the kitchen every night helping Lucinda fix dinner. She was right; I did have a natural talent for it, although I felt like my lack of experience brought down the quality of the food. And now that I had a hand in it, some of the magic of the meals had gone out; it seemed more like normal fare and I didn't feel as compelled to gorge myself every night.

Dad did, though. It was starting to get strange, actually. One night he declared that he'd actually been starving himself all day just to eat Lucinda's food, and then ate almost all of it by himself. I was starting to think he was losing his mind, but Lucinda just smiled and offered me some green beans.

It must have been that same night that I noticed Dad was putting on weight - which didn't surprise me when I thought about his eating habits, but did worry me because I knew it wasn't good for him. One night I convinced him to help me do the dishes, and mentioned that I thought he could probably stand to cut back on dinner a bit. He just slapped me on the back, laughed, and said he was glad he was "getting some healthy weight back now that we had a real woman in the house."

Did Lucinda count as a real woman? I was starting to wonder. Despite how good the food was, she never seemed to eat very much of it - and while my dad was rapidly gaining weight, she seemed to be slowly losing it. Before I'd thought she was attractively thin, but now she seemed to be slightly angular - almost bony if I caught her in the right light. Her face seemed slightly gaunt, too, making her eyes seem even larger - and I could have sworn there was something wrong with them. I told myself that it was nothing; she probably just had lazy eye or something like that. But I still kept close watch on her.

Dad and Lucinda had been married for about three months at this point, and I still hadn't managed to walk in on her in the bathroom. Which was just fine with me, because no teenager wants to see his stepmother naked, especially if she's attractive. I could credit that to her preference of using the master bathroom to the shared one in the hall.

Well, "preference" wouldn't be right. More like "obssession." No matter what she was doing, Lucinda would only do it in the master bathroom. Even if she just had to go touch up her makeup or change her top. It wasn't just something that she had against the shared bathroom. She never used public restrooms, either. Kind of gave them the stinkeye when we were out shopping. I thought it was kind of funny, but the one time I laughed she gave me a look that suggested I might end up injured, and I shut up.

Five seconds later she was back to laughing while we picked out baguettes.

As time went on, the situation only grew worse. Dad kept on gaining weight, assuring me the whole time that there was nothing wrong. Lucinda became thinner and thinner, and that look that she gave my dad turned from hungry to straight-up predatory. I knew that something was wrong, but I didn't know how to prove it. I didn't even know WHAT was wrong, exactly. What would I tell my dad? I don't think your wife is human? Oh, no reason, she just makes really good food and doesn't like public restrooms?

Then the bathtub faucet broke in the master bathroom.

Nobody knows what happened, exactly. Lucinda was taking her after-dinner bath when we heard a SNAP and a scream. Dad went to check it out, but she'd locked herself in and spend another half hour screaming and flailing before he found out what happened. The faucet could be fixed in a couple of days, but Lucinda would have to bathe in the shared bathroom or do without.

She looked like she was on the verge of tears, but grabbed her towel and soap and stalked down the hall. Her narrow, bony feet barely made an indent in the carpet, and I headed back to my room to the sound of running water and muffled sobs.

The next day, I woke up to the sound of my dad shouting my name. He sounded panicked - like something terrible had just happened. Part of me was hoping it had happened to Lucinda, but I knew I'd better get to him and find out what was going on.

I found him in the kitchen. At least, the pathetic thing kneeling in front of the fridge looked like my dad. But he was staring morosely as a shelf full of ingredients, looking like the world had just ended.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"There's nothing to eat," he said plaintively. The look on his face was one of pure, mindless hunger.

"What are you talking about?" I asked. "There's food here. Look, we've got eggs and bread. You can have some scramble and toast."

"No food," he murmered. "It's just not the same. She has to make it."

Okay, this was WAY out of hand.

"Dad," I said. "Stop being ridiculous. This is perfectly good food. It has nothing to do with whether Lucinda cooks it or not."

"It's just not the same..." he muttered.

"Okay, fine. If I cook you some breakfast, will you quit complaining?"

That brightened him up. Significantly. I wasn't sure why, but that worried him, too. "Sure. Your cooking's almost as good as hers. Shoot, you could probably open your own restaurant someday."

I got the eggs and bread out of the fridge. Then some bacon and vegetables. As long as I was cooking, I might was well make something decent. While Dad salivated dully in the dining room, I made some omelets, bacon, and fried toast for both of us. Dad tore into his like a starving man, his eyes glazed over as he nearly swallowed it whole. The sight all but killed my appetite, and he ended up eating most of mine, too.

Damn. No wonder I was so hungry lately, with this pig eating everything in the house.

Lucinda didn't show up to cook lunch, either. Fortunately, Dad was at work, so all I had to do was make a sandwich for myself. I wasn't worried, for once. She was probably just out cooling her heels after last night's fiasco. Well, Dad would fix the plumbing tonight and that would be that.

But then she didn't show up for dinner.

Again, Dad sat helpless and morose at the table while I threw together a caesar salad and some grilled chicken with a side of potatoes au gratin. I didn't bother eating any of it; just went upstairs to do some homework.

A couple of hours later I heard the sound of running water, so I figured Lucinda must have come home for her bath. Did she ever miss that thing? Well, come to think of it, she was as fastidious about her grooming habits as her taste in bathrooms. I shrugged and didn't pay it any more mind.

About an hour later, I realized I had to pee. As usual, I just walked into the hall and threw open the bathroom door.

what was that

It wasn't human.


It was my stepmother.

oh god

The thing in the bathtub was impossibly thin, and pale. It still resembled a woman - in the most cursory way only. Much of the skin was tattered, showing raw and rotting meat where maggots squirmed and feasted happily. The body dragged itself to a standing position, dripping water and blood and oozing yellowish fluid, and stared at me.

the eyes

Her eyes were gone. No, not gone - I saw them sitting on the edge of the bathtub, next to the soap. Her sockets were nothing but black voids broken by two pinpricks of yellow light that stared purposefully at me.

"We're dying," she whispered mournfully. Her voice was raspy, weak. I slammed the door and locked it, but heard her slam up against the paneling less than a second later. "We're dying, Jamie... and we need your help. We're hungry... so hungry... this body is almost gone, Jamie. I tried to hold out - your father would last so much longer; we just need time to get him ready - that's why I need you. You have the gift, like Lucinda did... It's so much more precious than you realize. We can use it to keep him eating, Jamie. Build up a body that will last. We don't like killing, Jamie - we just want to live..."

She was trying to open the door. I held tight, wishing these damn things locked from the outside, and feeling sorry for Lucinda. I'd given her a lot of hate and she hadn't deserved any of it. She was just a victim of the things that were devouring her. Just because she had the "gift." Whatever that was.

I hoped it involved keeping bathroom doors shut. She was yanking on it now, rattling the hinges and scratching at the wood. I held it tight, thanking God that I wasn't currently being eaten alive by maggots, because that gave me the strength advantage.


The sounds grew worse and worse. Banging, rattling, moaning, scratching. My arms grew sore as the thing that my father had married struggled to reach me. At last I heard a slow, wet, squirming sound, followed by several thick plopping noises and a final thud.

Cautiously, I eased the door open. There, on the floor, were the disembodied limbs of the woman who had once been Lucinda. The maggots had weakened her joints in their greed, and the struggle of pulling at the door had torn her apart.

My dad never questioned the fire that destroyed that end of the house. He never questioned anything after that, except to ask when dinner would be ready. The hunger, it seems, didn't stop when Lucinda died. And since no one else has the "gift," I have to cook or he'll starve.

He keeps telling everyone what a great cook I am. I just take his word for it - I can hardly stand to eat anything now. I know it's not healthy, and some people have commented on how skinny I've gotten. But I can't keep anything down while I watch him pig out.

Besides, he's almost ready, and then I can finally get these maggots out of me.