The Case of the Mysterious Meat5 min read


Kate Ingram
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Survival of the Fictitiousest Winner

It was hot. The kind of hot that would make the devil himself pull out a fan. Everywhere Mauve looked was blurry, either from heat rising off the pavement, sweat dripping in his eyes, or an uncomfortable combination of both. It was hot and Salisbury Steakhouse and Petting ZooTM was lying.

Mauve could taste it immediately. He considered himself something of an amateur connoisseur of steak—that is, when he wasn’t solving cases. After trying his hand at being a YouTuber (a career which crashed, burned, and scattered in the wind before it even started), he decided to become a freelance detective. Turns out detective work isn’t like the movies. It’s not all blondes with legs up to here, innocent bystanders getting snuffed, and car chases right out of the shot. Rather, Mauve could almost say he specialized in retrieving rogue pets.

But that wasn’t important right now. Sally Albright of Steaks and SteroidsTM, the sweet little cafe on the corner of Main, had a case.

She’d come into his office and made an impression like an anvil to the back of the head. Clad in fine furry pants and a miter a dame her age shouldn’t have been able to afford, she’d commandeered his last cigar and dropped a file on Mauve’s desk. She was a fiery broad. More taken aback by the thievery than the attire, Mauve had shot her a look as steely as one of the good Magnums pistols.

“I think Salisbury Steakhouse is feeding me steak sourced from their petting zoo.” Sally communicated via an expressive series of exotic dance moves.

“What makes you think so?” Mauve asked. Sally went on to describe what she’d intended to be a short meal of meat and mushrooms, but ended as a case of missing goat and restaurant scandal. A poorly cooked meal and coincidental escape weren’t grounds for a full investigation. However, the greenbacks she slid across the desk certainly made a profound argument. Mauve took the case.

Four hours later, Mauve could be found entertaining a bloody slab of meat and sitting in the company of a large donkey snout snuffling under his elbow. From one bite, Mauve could tell this was no ordinary beef steak, and certainly not the fancy English kind Salisbury Steakhouse and Petting ZooTM was so proud of. This … was tenderloin. Mauve spat it out to the floor, and the snuffling became disgruntled in that way only snuffling can do. Storm cloud over his head, he carved a warpath through assorted animal droppings to the register.

“I’d like to talk to the manager,” he said, slamming a fist on the countertop. The employee wrinkled her nose like Mauve was a bad smell—and after sharing dinner with a miniature donkey, he probably was.

“Come with me,” she said, looking him over with disdain. She led him down a hall and to the right, away from the dining area and into a large barn.

“How the hell does this fit in here?” Mauve asked.

The employee opened a door and gestured for him to go inside. He walked inside past her and found himself face to face with a charming and grinning llama. “Thanks, doll,” the llama said to the employee, who showed herself out.

“What’s the big idea here?” Mauve demanded. “I signed up for Salisbury steak and what’d I get? Tenderloin and a whole lot’a inconvenience.”

The manager tugged at his collar awkwardly. “You’re the first person to ask that,” he bleated.

“I promise I ain’t the first one to notice,” Mauve spat. “I was sent here to investigate because you had another patron who left … displeased with your service.”

The manager sniffed and pawed the ground.

“That’s a funny story actually. You know why we’re called Salisbury Steakhouse and Petting ZooTM?”

Mauve nodded, well aware. The llama continued.

“Hypothetically—well, I shouldn’t say hypothetically, more it’s possible than anything, that we don’t serve steaks or supply petting zoo animals for fun and education?” He said it like a question.

“So, what is the truth?” Mauve asked.

“It might be that the alleged petting zoo animals are nothing more than scientists participating in a massive study on the eating habits of humans, and it’s quite probable that whatever food we claim to be famous for is engineered by their team to aid in their study, leaving them with more variables in their control.”

Mauve was satisfied. It was a perfectly reasonable answer, and this particular llama looked like he would be hard-pressed to fabricate a story on the spot. But there was one more thing that didn’t add up.

“If these petting zoo animals are scientists, then what happened to the missing goat from last night?” he asked, the answer dawning on him even as he spoke. Well, Mauve did have a specialty for finding missing pets. The manager’s stomach grumbled as if in answer.


About the Survival of the Fictiousest

by Anthony Klancar, Winton Woods teaching assistant

For the past seven years, The Headcases (Winton Woods City School district’s student writing group located in Cincinnati, OH) has hosted Survival of the Fictitiousest: a writing contest that requires not only superior skill in the art of prose, but a lithe and quick mind. Entrants are given a surprise prompt (“The Salisbury Steak wasn’t from Salisbury and it certainly wasn’t steak.” was this year’s prompt) and the space of one hour to craft a piece of flash fiction that, while not judged on mechanics, is to be judged on creativity, use of the prompt, story construction, and entertainment value.

The judging panel does not consist of the standard panel of educators who must conform to the state’s writing requirements. The Headcases like to believe that such guidelines do not meet their lofty standards. Instead, we call on the experience and knowledge of professional writers, editors, and publishers. This year, we had the great pleasure of working with the likes of professional editor Janet Harriett, popular fantasy author Maurice Broaddus, and the legendary dark fantasy author Gary A. Braunbeck. Working with Apex Magazine editor-in-chief Jason Sizemore, it was agreed that the winning story would appear in his award-winning publication, one that has built a reputation of highlighting the work of up-and-coming writers, as well as finding and highlighting diverse and talented new authors from around the world.

Careening through the fray with both wit and style, Kate Ingram emerged as this year’s champion. This shadowy cryptid has generously taken time away from her usual hobby of skulking outside of windows to work with the Headcases for the past four years. The yarn she spun of a llama, a detective and a rather suspect petting zoo entertained the Headcases, and we believe it will entertain you, too.

  • Kate Ingram

    Kate Ingram is a high school junior from Cincinnati. She’s known for her writing (particularly her affinity for fantasy and scifi) in some very small circles, and her passion for theatrical lighting design in others. She is working on a fantasy novel, and her dream is to one day finish it.

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