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art by Tais Teng

D is for De Gustibus

Tim Pratt's stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and other nice places. He's won a Hugo for his short fiction (and lost Sturgeon, Stoker, World Fantasy, and Nebula Awards). He lives in Berkeley CA with his wife and son. Find him online at timpratt.org

Jenn Reese lives in Los Angeles and is currently writing a middle-grade adventure series for Candlewick Press. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons and the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology Paper Cities, among others. Follow her adventures at jennreese.com.

Heather Shaw is a writer, editor, gardener and aikidoka living in Berkeley, California with her husband and son. She's had fiction in Strange Horizons, Polyphony, The Year's Best Fantasy, Escape Pod and other nice places. She just finished her first middle-grade novel, "Keaton T., Junior Gene Hacker" and is looking for representation. For more, visit heathershaw.org

Greg van Eekhout's fiction for adults and children includes the novels Norse Code and Kid vs. Squid and stories published in Asimov's, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and other places. He lives in San Diego, CA. For more information, visit writingandsnacks.com.

I'd never seen the little herb shop in the strip mall before--though the truth was, I smelled it more than I saw it. I stepped inside, because when you live in the blandest reaches of outer suburbia, spices more exotic than cinnamon or sage are hard to come by. The shop was small and overstuffed, with weirdly geometric carpets hanging on the walls, and shelves filled with unlabeled glass jars in varying degrees of opacity. The proprietor was about four feet tall, dressed in what appeared to be more patterned carpets, and he--she?--walked with a weird foot-dragging gait. The voice that emerged from the hood was pure mid-Atlantic telemarketer, though: "May I help you?"
"What kind of stuff do you have here?" I asked.
"We have many interesting things. Melange. Kingsfoil. Azoth. Devil weed. Selenine. Ryll."
"Wow. That's some selection." I'd never heard of any of those. "Uh, I was just looking for something to make a curry..." I saw a clear vial of yellow spice and said, "Hey, is that turmeric?"
The proprietor hmmed. "I do not know that word, but local names vary. It has many wonderful properties--"
"I was reading about that in a magazine," I said. "Turmeric is good for digestive problems, right? And they think it might help fight Alzheimer's, arthritis, and cancer, too. Yeah?"
The shopkeeper sort of twitched. "I think perhaps--"
"Well, all I care is it tastes good." I picked up the vial. "How much for this?" I pulled out my wallet, and the little coin pouch wasn't zipped right, so nickels and dimes and quarters scattered on the floor.
The shopkeeper knelt and looked at the coins. "Tiny round portraits," he said. "I will take these."
It was only about a buck forty-five in change so I didn't argue. I took the spice home, looked up some recipes online, and made myself a yellow curry, though I had to substitute soy sauce for fish sauce and lemon peel for lemon grass.
From the first bite I knew something was wrong. The curry didn't taste like food at all. It tasted like hot ashes and interstellar voids and the true meaning of insignificance.
I went back to the shop for a refund, but the doors were closed. I suddenly understood that all matter was only molecules separated by vast emptiness, though, so it was easy to make the nothingness in me line up with the nothingness in the door so I could pass right through to the inside. The shopkeeper was nowhere to be seen, but his rugs made sense to me now: the patterns were sort of like roadmaps, and also sort of like doors. From here, there was almost nowhere I couldn't go.
I picked a destination at random. I couldn't wait to find out what the food tasted like in all the ten million worlds of the night.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
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