“Good golly, that’s a fat man,” said Tyler. He was a precocious scamp and didn’t know any better. You know how kids are.
“Now son, that’s no way to talk about someone,” Derrick said. He was a fat man, though, he had to admit. But, what do you expect at a pie-eating contest?
“Eat, fat man, eat!” Tyler yelled, prompting the nearest four ladies to look back at him. He chuckled at this, eating up the attention.
“Tyler! That is enough!” Derrick shook his head, amazed at his son’s brashness but jealous at the same time. “Be respectful!” He hated having to use a phrase like that.
“But Dad!” Tyler whined, “I’m just having fun!”
“I don’t care, you’re going to hurt his feelings.” His father’s words, coming out of his own mouth. This is when you know you’re getting old. He sighed to himself and turned back to the eating contest, already well underway. The fat man was midway through his third pie (blueberry) while the other man, who Derrick considered more portly than fat, was a third of the way through his fourth (also blueberry).
Thirty seconds left.
Derrick looked around. The crowd seemed tense, or at least as tense as people get at one of these things. Actually, no. They seemed extra tense.
“Don’t let’m beat ya, Roland!” an old lady yelled out.
“Yea, Ro! Kick his ass!” another one shouted. Derrick laughed at the thought of someone kicking someone else’s ass at eating. You like the way I chew, lady? Oh yeah!
A man who appeared to be in his early thirties started chanting “Roland! Roland! Roland!” while shaking a fist in the air and looking around, pleading for someone else to join in. No one else did and the man focused back on the action, with a bit of an embarrassed look on his face.
The bell rang, and a hush fell over the crowd.
“And the winner is…” the judge said, looking a bit disappointed, “Jerry McFall, of Pocketborough.” A mixture of boos and cheers erupted from the crowd, and loudest of all was the voice of an eleven-year-old boy. A voice that Derrick instantly recognized.
“You suck, Roland!” yelled Tyler. “Go home to your mommy! You couldn’t beat anyone at an eating contest!”
“Tyler!” said Derrick, trying to push his son away from the front of the crowd.
“You’re over the hill!” Tyler said, forcing his way out of his father’s grip as best he could. “You’re over the hill! You’re an old man with a weak stomach!” At these words, the crowd drew in a collective gasp, then fell silent.
“What did you say?” growled Roland, looking around for the source of the voice.
“I said you’re an old man, and you can’t eat for crap!” said Tyler, defiantly.
“Why you little…” said Roland. The crowd grew even tenser.
“Bite me, weak eater!” said Tyler, sticking his tongue out.
“Maybe I will!” shouted Roland as he leaped towards the boy, mouth open and teeth dripping with saliva. He grabbed the boy and lifted him off the ground, pulling him closer to his mouth. “Mmm…I’ve always wanted to taste little boy!”
“Get off my son!” said Derrick, grabbing Roland’s shirt sleeve. “He didn’t mean it; he’s just messing around.”
“Oh, yeah?” Roland said as he put Tyler down, turning his focus on Derrick.
“No, I wasn’t,” Tyler said, kicking him in the shin. “You really do suck!”
“Tyler, no!” Derrick said, fumbling to pull Tyler close to him. “I’m sorry sir, I really don’t know what’s gotten into the kid. He’s usually not like this.”
“Hey, kids say the darndest things, eh?” Roland said, letting out a small chortle. “But if I were yer kid, I’d watch it.” This time, he looked a little menacing, shaking his fist. “Words like that’ll end up getting him punched right in the face.” His fist landed into his open hand, making a resounding thick slap sound.
“He will, he will, sorry about this, uh, and about your loss, uh, sir.” Derrick fumbled over his words while backing away from Roland, shielding his son from the face-punching that he was sure was coming.
“No problem, I’ll get ‘em next time, eh?” Roland said, cracking a blueberry-covered smile. Derrick felt a rush of relief.
“Yea, next time, man! I was really rootin’ for you, too!” Derrick said, hoping no one noticed the relief on his face. He took his son’s hand and began walking away from the scene.
“Dad, are you just going to take that?” Tyler said, a small amount of dejection in his voice.
“He was threatening me,” Tyler pouted, “and you just let him get away with it.”
“You provoked a three-hundred-pound man, son. I should have let him bite you,” Derrick replied. “And he wasn’t threatening you, really, just warning you what could happen if you talked like that to the wrong person. It’s a good lesson, really.”
“No way! We gotta stand up for ourselves!” Tyler said as he broke away from his father’s grip. “You taught me that, Dad! Always stand up for yourself!”
“What do you mean?” Derrick said, turning around and seeing what exactly Tyler meant. “Oh no…”
“Hey, fat Roland!” Tyler screamed. “Just ’cause you’re a big fat jerk doesn’t mean you can push us little folk around!”
Roland turned around and looked at the gutsy eleven-year-old.
“Yea, I’m talking to you,” Tyler said, glaring at the beast-man Roland. “You’re no better than us!”
“Oh Tyler, you’re blowing this way out of proportion!” Derrick said, running to catch up with his son.
Roland stood there looking at the boy and let out a combination of smirk and chuckle. You know the kind. The kind of expression that never leads to anything pleasant.
“Yeah laugh it up,” Tyler said. “Fact is, you haven’t been eating like you used to. I bet you couldn’t even eat more than…”
“Oh Christ,” mumbled Derrick, “don’t say it.”
“More than…my dad!” said Tyler, proud of himself. By this time most of the crowd had seemingly reformed out of thin air, and they all gasped at this boy’s inflammatory remark. Then they turned to look at Roland, the Cuyahoga County Pie-Eating Contest winner for five years straight.
And he just laughed. A deep, surly laugh; one of those laughs that scare you deep down because you know underneath it all there’s not a shred of joy. One that has boiled up from the nether realm, perhaps even from very pits of Hell. One might even call it a threatening laugh. Derrick sure did.
“Him?” Roland said, clutching his and pointing at Derrick. “he’s like, what, one sixty, maybe?” Roland spit this out between hearty chuckles. Derrick reeled back at this. He was at least one-seventy. Derrick quickly dismissed that thought as he realized what was going on.
“Hey hey hey, no one’s saying anything,” Derrick said, patting the air with his hands facing palm forward, “my son’s just getting a little overzealous, that’s all. The spirit of competition and all…”
“What it sounds like to me is that there’s a little man here who can’t back up his words,” said Roland, getting in Derrick’s face.
“They weren’t even my words!” Derrick said, getting flustered.
“Oh, trying to blame it on your kid now?”
“I mean, yeah, he is the one who said it…”
“What, are you a chicken who can’t eat worth a damn?”
“No! Just, we’re getting in way over our heads here, we’re talking crazy,” Derrick looked around at the crowd hanging on every word. “We’re being silly. And I eat pretty well, thank you very much.”
“No, skinny man; silly would be you showing up here tomorrow to challenge me to an eating contest,” Roland said, making his point final with an index finger jab to Derrick’s chest. Derrick looked around him; the gleam of a challenge was in everybody’s eyes. He could just hear them now: running up and down the streets of Clemburke, telling everyone who would listen to what was going to transpire.
“Ole Roland and Derrick’s gonna have themselves an eatin’ battle,” one would say.
“The big man’s gonna probably eat that skinny little jerk when he’s done,” someone would reply.
The old ladies who hang out in front of the store would say “That Derrick fella had better watch it, Rolly might just eat his house if he angers him too much,” in-between bouts of “guess who’s sleeping with who?” At least I won’t be interrupting that.
The crowd fidgeted.
A bead of sweat went down Roland’s forehead.
An old lady licked her upper lip.
Derrick saw all this and more as he looked around to see what everyone’s reaction was to Roland’s challenge. He knew they wanted a fight; he knew they wanted to see Roland cream him, or at least as close to a creaming that can occur during an eating contest. Please save the puns. He knew he shouldn’t go along with this stupid mentality, but when he saw the way his son was looking up at him, he knew what he had to do.
“Fine Roland, you’ve got yourself a challenge,” Derrick said, regretting every word. “What time do you want me here?”
“Well,” Roland smiled a sick, evil smile. “Let’s just say…high noon.”
Derrick couldn’t believe that he had gotten talked into this. He sat at the kitchen table that night, almost in tears at the thought of going against Big Roland Abscot. He thought of the townsfolk all chuckling about it probably right now. He thought about his wife, God rest her soul, and how she was probably looking down on him and laughing her guts out. He thought maybe he’d have to move; the humiliation would be too much to bear when he lost tomorrow. But mostly, he thought about his son and how hard it was going to be to face him after the contest. He put his head in his hands and wept.
“Dad?” Tyler said as he walked cautiously into the kitchen. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, it…it’s nothing,” said Derrick before erupting into hysterical crying, mumbling his words together as if he had a mouth full of pennies. “HA DA WA OOH A HINK HA UM KI AH WOOZY WOOSAH!”
“Uh…” Tyler said with eyes open wide, trying not to look at his dad.
“What can I do?” Derrick said, barely decipherable through all the crying.
“Dad, it’s just a stupid eating contest,” Tyler said as he hugged his dad and went back into the living room. He’s right, it is just a stupid eating contest. What am I so worried about? Filled with a newfound sense of determination, Derrick stood up and looked at the cabinet. He pulled out flour, sugar, and a couple cans of emergency blueberry pie filling that he kept on hand. He reached into the cabinet under the sink, taking out a few mixing bowls and a pie plate. He opened the refrigerator and got a few eggs out. He laid them all on the counter and knew what he had to do. It was training time.
Derrick arrived home from the store, with 3 frozen blueberry pies under his arm. He was stopped dead in the door by his son, who was standing in the kitchen tapping his foot authoritatively like a mother who’s been waiting way too long for you to come home.
“Where have you been?” he said.
“Uh…” Derrick began, looking randomly around the room for an excuse, any excuse. “I had to go to the store for, uh…wait a minute! I’m the dad here, what are you doing?”
“I came in here to see how you were, and you were gone. I saw the pie stuff on the counter, and…”
“Well, so I can’t bake as well as I thought! I went to the store for pies!”
“Dad!” Tyler rolled his eyes.
“If you are going to stand a chance against him tomorrow, you can’t go filling up on pies tonight!” Tyler said as he shook his head, a look on his face that said man, you are D-U-M-B dumb. Derrick cocked his head to the side as Tyler started giggling. Derrick threw the pies on the counter next to a bowl filled with a watery mixture Derrick once called pie crust and joined his son in laughter.
“Well,” Derrick said, “I was going to train.”
“Dad, Dad, wake up!” Tyler shouted as he hopped on Derrick’s bed.
“Grr…” He joked, opening his eyes and grabbing for the boy as if they were in an old monster movie. They shared a laugh, and then Tyler informed him that it was time for him to get up and get ready for some eating. Derrick shot up in bed with a quickness that Tyler had never seen.
“Did I sleep in?” he wondered.
“Yea, it’s like 10:30,” Tyler answered.
“Oh. Crap,” Derrick said, then chased his son around the room again, monster-style like always.
After a long shower and a short “appetizing” breakfast of toast and juice, Derrick and Tyler were on their way to the fairgrounds, where the crowds were already gathering. Roland had beat them there.
“I thought you would chicken out, skinny-man,” Roland said as they got out of the car.
“Well I didn’t,” Derrick said, slamming the car door. “I just hope you’re ready to eat, you…you…”
“Say it, Dad!” Tyler interrupted, pumping his fist.
“You…jerk!” Derrick said, silently mouthing yea! and joining Tyler with a fist pump of his own.
His face beamed with pride.
Tyler rolled his eyes.
Roland just stared at him.
“OK,” Roland said. “Get up here then.” Derrick had a brief flash of panic, but quickly composed himself and walked up the short stairs to the covered stage. He approached the giant man with a confidence he had never had before.
“So…what are the rules, huh, tough guy?” He said, poking his chin at him.
“Hell if I know, man,” Roland said. “Judge isn’t here yet.” He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders as if to say what can ya do? Derrick pursed his lips and nodded, looking back to his son and giving the same what can ya do? expression. They sat and waited for the judge to show.
An hour passed and there was still no judge. The crowd had doubled, possibly even tripled, in size and they were getting restless. Derrick and Roland just sat there, looking down at their watch or each other every once in a while, but mostly looking at the crowd. Beady eyes stared back at them; mouths frothing for action.
“Let’s get to it! I want to see some blood,” yelled Mrs. Murphy, who lived three houses down from Derrick. “I was up half the night cooking these pies!”
“I was up half the night thinking about this!” a man whom Derrick had never seen before added.
“How much longer we gotta wait?” an impatient John S. Rigglesby asked his fellow crowd mates. “This is startin’ to look like a sham!”
“A sham!” the entire crowd gasped together in unison. One man yelled “Get ‘em!” before they disintegrated into a stew of voices, verbally clawing at the two men on the stage. Derrick and Roland stood up, Roland knocking over his chair, and started making their way to the back of the stage, near the stairs. Someone in the crowd noticed and yelled that they were trying to get away. People started rushing the stage, the loudest of them yelling “Yer gonna eat or die.” Tyler stood frozen, too scared to move.
Suddenly a large black truck pulled up, parting the crowd as if it were Moses in truck form. They moved their glares from the two men to the truck, then back to the two men, then back to the truck. Derrick looked relieved to see it; no matter who was driving it, at least the crowd no longer had murder in their eyes. He saw the vehicle’s door open, and out walked a tall man in a cowboy hat, sporting a short white beard and a half-smile. The judge!
“You the judge?” asked John S. Rigglesby. “We was expectin’ Jacob Willerstein. Who’re you?”
“Jacob fell ill with a nasty case of…never mind. That’s not important, but what is is that he called me late last night telling me there was fixin’ to be an eatin’ contest in these parts. Now, up in Shelley County, we take these things very seriously. We can’t be havin’ one of these, even an informal one like this, without a judge.” He took a breath, looked around to see if anyone was catching his drift. Blank stares greeted him. “So, here I am: The Judge.”
“Yea,” said John. “But what’s your name?”
“You can call me,” he grinned. “The Judge.”
Derrick had heard of this man before. He meant business. He took no prisoners. He knew what was up. Eating contests were his thing, make no mistake about it. Once, he heard, the man had held a fork up to a man’s throat who was suspected of cheating. How one cheats at an eating contest, he didn’t know, but he didn’t want to find out.
“Well sir, it’s an honor to meet you,” Roland looked as nervous as he was. “I suppose we should get this thing underway?”
“Of course.” Said the judge, strolling up onto the stage. “You must be Big Roland Abscot.”
“Why, yes I am, sir.” Roland smiled.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” The Judge said. “You’re famous in Shelley County.”
“Really?” Roland’s eyes were wide with amazement. He looked like a child seeing the toy he always wanted under the Christmas tree.
“Yes,” The Judge looked irritated. “that’s what I just said. Now, the rules are simple: Roland, you and…” The Judge looked at Derrick.
“Derrick,” he said, nervously. “Derrick Reynolds”
“Very well. You and Derrick here have…how many pies we got?”
“Ten!” Mrs. Murphy yelled, mimicking the number with her hands. “We got ten blueberry pies!”
“Only ten pies?” The Judge scoffed, “Why only ten?”
“They’re lightweights, sir.” She shook her fist. “Lightweights!”
“OK, ma’am, that’s enough. Ten pies will do.” He turned back to Derrick and Roland. “You have five pies each. In the case that you both go over…”
“Lightweights!” Mrs. Murphy reiterated.
“Ahem.” He gave Mrs. Murphy a stern look. She raised her hand to let him know she was finished. “Anyway, if you both go over five pies, the winner will be determined by a finish-first win-first determination.”
Roland and Derrick looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders in unison and then turned their stare to The Judge. The Judge sighed while rolling his eyes.
“Whoever eats ‘em quickest wins!” he irritatingly spat out.
“Oh! Gotcha!” They both said, turning to give each other small high-fives.
“Good Lord,” said The Judge, shaking his head. “Are we gonna eat or what?” Roland nodded, as did Derrick; They sat down at the table with their pies in front of them, ready to eat. “OK ladies, on your marks, get set, go!” announced The Judge, clicking his stopwatch.
The two men ate. And ate. And ate. The crowd cheered, Tyler sat wide-eyed, and The Judge watched intently, both at the men and at the clock. Sweat beaded on everyone’s forehead as the contest went on and on. One member of the crowd fainted. Another had to run to a nearby trash can to lose his lunch. A couple of fights broke out, but the local law enforcement squashed them pretty quickly. Finally, The Judge clicked the timer. The tension was so thick that the entire crowd felt encased in gelatine.
“We have a winner!” he said triumphantly. “Never in my life have I seen two competitors go at it like these two,” he motioned towards the men. “They started with fervor, they ate with fervor, and they even finished with fervor. When the goin’ got tough, these toughs got eatin’. And the goin’ was tough, but they didn’t let that stop them, no siree, they met their challenge head-first and grabbed it by the reins. By the horns, really, as if it were a bull.”
“Oh shut up and give us the results,” yelled Mrs. Murphy. “We’ve been waiting for blood and we need blood!”
“What I’m trying to say is: I’ve never been more proud than I am today to have judged this monumental clash of the titans. A modern David and Goliath battle,” the Judge continued, ignoring Mrs. Murphy.
“We’ll have your blood if you don’t get to the damn results,” Mrs. Murphy interjected, again.
“Ahem,” The Judge gave Mrs. Murphy a look that showed no fear. She shook her head at him. “After much deliberation, I have decided the winner, and that winner is…Roland,” he said, framing Roland with his hands, like a magician saying ta-da! The crowd stared; eyes glassed over. “Roland!” Ta-da, again.
“Oh…” one of the women in the crowd said as she shook her head. “Roland won! Hooray!” The rest of the crowd shared in her jubilance, clapping and shouting, holding index fingers to the sky. They started clearing out, still whooping with victory.
“I am satisfied!” said Mrs. Murphy, shaking her fist. “I got blood!”
“I’d like to say something,” Derrick called out suddenly, interrupting the crowd’s dispersal. “When I woke up this morning, I thought I would end today a wi—”
“I can’t believe Mrs. Murphy threw a pie tin at your head,” Tyler said, chuckling.
“Me, either! She said she was satisfied! She got blood,” Derrick replied, adjusting the ice pack on his head.
“You went down fast.”
“No, I didn’t.” Derrick did not look amused.
“Yeah, you did. It was like ping and then plop, you were on your butt,” Tyler chuckled.
“I went down in a perfectly normal, acceptable amount of time after one gets hit in the head by a flying pie tin,” Derrick said firmly.
“And then Roland scooped you up and ran you to the medical tent.”
“Crying all the way that his little buddy was gonna die”
“Begging God to have you pull through, someone who put up that much of a fight didn’t deserve to go like that!”
“I’ve never seen a man cry like that, Dad. And I’ve definitely never seen a man cry like he did when you finally woke up.” Tyler looked positively delighted to remember this event. Derrick sighed and sunk into the couch. “Hey, Dad?”
“What?” Derrick responded.
“What do you wanna have for dinner,” he asked. “Maybe a chicken pot pie?”
“Maybe for dessert we could have some blueberry pie!”
“Or maybe you wanna change it up a bit, have apple instead?”
“Yeah, Dad?” Tyler said between uproarious laughter.
BIO: Todd M. Guerra is a longtime writer who will take this thing seriously one of these days. He is, as Doctor Octopus would say, “brilliant, but lazy.” He lives in Dayton, Ohio with his wife, children and too many pets.