The chair groaned beneath Gregory Padillia’s massive girth, an echoing frustration of the downtrodden staff. He could feel them frowning in defeat as he raised taco number 93 to his gaping jaw and bit down. The flavor of the spicy meat, tangy cheese, and crunchy shell changed with each bite, each step closer to victory.
“He can’t possibly get to 100,” one of the servers whispered just behind his back. He enjoyed the thought he would crush their small hope. If there was one thing Gregory could do, it was eat. He hadn’t met a food challenge yet he wasn’t able to conquer. They probably shouldn’t have offered free tacos for life to anyone eating 100. He could eat 100 tacos every time he came in.
“More!” he roared around a mouthful of taco chunks.
A nervous whine ran through the servers as the manager came out from the kitchen. He carried the last seven tacos on a plate in one hand and a small wooden casket in the other.
“Senior, perhaps you would like to up the ante?” he asked as he sat down in the booth across from Gregory. “If you can finish your last few tacos while consuming the hottest hot sauce in the world atop them, I will not only give you free tacos for life, but, I will include the meals of everyone who joins you.” His wicked smile curved the edges of his pencil-thin mustache as he leaned forward on the table. “What do you say?”
Gregory returned his smile. “Spicy, huh?”
“The spiciest hot sauce in the world,” the manager corrected. “Nine men died to produce this bottle. It is not legally allowed for human consumption. It is considered a war crime to spill it in the presence of children.”
“You think you can scare me away from my taco destiny?” Gregory asked. “I’ve eaten raw payapagana peppers.” He reached across the table and wrapped his massive salami fingers around the small wooden casket. “I guess I know where my family reunion will be having dinner.”
A jet of red steamed whine from inside the coffin as he slid his thumbnail along the wax seal and pulled away the lid. Inside, the red bottle shone with an inner light behind a plain black label with no words–only the laughing face of the devil.
He cracked the lid and ignored the phantom screams of the damned escaping from inside.
Little flickering flames popped up from the shells as he dripped the red liquid over the plate of tacos. The air turned acidic and stung at his eyes, but he leaned down and took a long, thoughtful sniff.
“Not too bad,” he mumbled as he raised the first taco to his lips.
Around him, the servers twisted and contorted. One gave up the desire to see just how far this madman would go and fled from the restaurant, eyes swollen with tears.
The blisters on his tongue, lips, and throat prevented him from tasting even the first bite. He felt it slide down his esophagus, a ball of molten lava burning him from the inside. But, he fought on through a second bite, and a third, and a fourth.
“Senior, this is madness!” the manager screamed. “I did not think you would agree!”
Gregory waved him away as he started on the second molten taco. He had to scrap away the goo from the melted porcelain of the plate before he could shove half of it into his mouth.
Sweat poured from his head and pits. His heart stabbed rhythmically against the inside of his ribs. Every breath fanned the flames.
But he forced himself on.
The second taco down, he practically inhaled the third. Gregory Padillia couldn’t be stopped. He never shied from a food challenge.
The fourth and fifth tacos followed the third. The sixth was no problem now. His face and hands long numb.
The manager sat across from him, face blistered and red from sheer proximity. “Senior, you win. Please! We need to get you to a hospital!”
Gregory grunted him away and went for the last taco, rescuing it from the growing hole in the table. He swayed from the dizzy heat burning in his ears and wiped away the blood from his nose.
“Senior, please!” the manager pleaded one last time. “I concede. Free food for life. For you and guests. And three generation of children!”
Gregory shoved the last taco into his mouth.
I always win a food challenge, he thought as he swallowed the last bite.
He pushed himself from the chair, leaning his great weight against the table for support. The room spun around him, red mist boiling on the edges of his vision.
He smiled as best he could with melted cheeks and took one step toward the door. Victory was his.
A slow clap sprung up around him, growing in power. The servers lined up applauded as he made his way between them, basking in the overwhelming awe plastered on his face.
“There goes a truly great man,” one of them said. “A truly great man with, I hope, a truly great toilet.”
So, I’m blaming my brother for this story. He restarted his twitch feed: https://www.twitch.tv/axiomxiii
He streams Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 9:30 – Midnight Central. You should check it out.
Basically, I was hanging out in his chat and having so much fun remembering what it was like back when we only had one Nintendo controller I almost ran out of time to write this story.
That’s not fair. I had all day to work on it, but I was busy doing other things.
The title of this story can also be credited to a friend’s daughter. She decided she wanted to write a book with me once several years ago and “The Man Who Ate Too Many Tacos” was the story she wanted to tell.
Sorry, Rowen. This one is a little different. Hope you don’t mind.