Soup of Youth
By Ben Pienaar
Sam Wilkes had seen the house many times, mostly on the way to and from school, or when he walked the dog, an overweight beagle called putty, but this was the first time he'd seen the inside of the place.
"Here we go, here we go." The old lady crooned, leading Sam down the dusty hallway into a small kitchen.
"There it is." She said triumphantly, pointing to a shattered bulb on the ceiling.
"I don't know what happened," She said, "it just seemed to shatter, as if someone hit at it with a broomstick."
"I see." Sam said. He wasn't surprised at all. In fact he was more surprised it had been only a bulb that broke in this old house. For the most part of his life, Sam hadn't even considered there was someone living in the 'Goldsmith home' as his parents called it.
It was such a broken, dilapidated old place it hardly looked livable. And yet here he was, face to face with an inhabitant of what he thought to be uninhabitable.
"Do you have another bulb?" Sam asked. It seemed a stupid question but you never knew with old people. Especially this one, he thought.
"Oh, yes," She said brightly, and held up another bulb that didn't look like it would last more than a week.
"I would have put it in myself, of course, but I can'\t be sure I wouldn't break my back trying to get down from that rickety old table. I'm not quite fourteen anymore you know." She gave Sam a sickly sweet smile that showed every inch of her exposed gums, with only a few solitary teeth in awkward positions.
"Thanks," Sam said, taking the light bulb and pretending to scrutinize the broken one as if he was about to climb a mountain face rather than a wobbly old table to fix a broken light bulb.
Sam had changed a few light bulbs in his fourteen years, and it was easy enough for him, table or not, but when he descended from the leaning wooden table the old lady treated him like he had just performed a miracle.
"Wonderful! Just wonderful." She said, flipping the switch and bathing the room in pale almost white light.
"Oh, that's all right, I have to be home soon anyway, my parents ""
"However any good deed deserves payment doesn't it?" The old lady interrupted him, giving that sickly sweet smile again. Sam resisted the urge to shiver.
"Aren't you lucky I'm such a good cook? I made some wonderful pea and ham soup the other day and it won't take a minute to heat up."
"No, it's really all right, I have to ""
"And an old lady can't finish a big pot like that all by herself can she now?" She said, the smile fading form her mouth.
"I might have to throw some away and that would be a terrible waste, wouldn't it?" Her voice had taken on an unsettling coldness and Sam hastily accepted for fear of being thought rude, although he was beginning to regret entering the house in the first place.
As promised, the soup barely took a minute to heat up, for which Sam was grateful. Every second he spent sitting in the uncomfortable wooden chair and trying to avoid eye contact so he wouldn't see that horrible smile seemed to last an hour.
The lady - Mrs. Goldsmith she told him - gave him a bowl with a little more soup than he really would have liked, and he suspected he would find patches of it still cold. But the faster he ate the faster he could leave, and the lady watched as Sam spooned the thick soup, pretending the reason for his speed was hunger, and not that he just wanted to leave.
"Growing food for a growing boy!" She said brightly, and giggled in a high pitched girlish voice. Sam smiled and forced another few spoonfuls down his throat before he suddenly felt something was wrong. His soup spoon hovered in the air under his nose and then he dropped it back into the bowl, his eyes wide in surprise.
The lady was still smiling, apparently unaware there was anything wrong.
Sam grabbed the table with both hands, his face growing pale as he forced himself not to vomit the thick, vile liquid. His head was a spinning sea of confusion and sickness, but even in his obscure state of mind he noticed with strange clarity how much younger the old lady seemed.
"Is there something the matter, dear?" She said, her mouth a gleaming smile of yellow teeth.
"You don't look quite like yourself." Sam didn't feel like himself either. His hands felt bigger, and his vision dimmed suddenly. He looked down and saw two of his teeth and a clump of his hair fall into the soup. He pushed himself away as if he had been burnt, knocking his chair back and tipping a decorated vase off the shelf behind him. Again that high pitched girlish giggle. Sam tried to scream, but all that came out was a scratchy croaking sound. His breathing felt laboured and slow, and a pillar of pain made its way up his back. Sam stumbled into the counter and slumped down to the floor, writhing in agony.
From somewhere - Sam couldn't tell where, his hearing was failing - the old lady laughed again. But when Sam opened his eyes, he saw she was no longer an old woman but a young girl of about fourteen. She was looking down at him and smiling brightly, giggling in that same high pitched way.
"H - help." Sam croaked, trying to pull himself to his feet and failing. The girl laughed again and then she was gone, her soft, light footsteps disappearing down the dusty hallway. Sam uttered another groan and finally managed to pull himself to his feet, resting on the counter.
He lurched over to the table and stared down into the remainder of his soup for a few seconds. Then he reached down and rescued the sodden clumps of hair and the teeth. He put the bowl next to the microwave and threw the hair in the dustbin, but not before marveling at it. Just for a second. He wished he could have hair like that " so young and thick and healthy. Mr. Goldsmith took a broom from the broom cupboard and used its handle to break the kitchen light bulb, trying to ignore the nagging pain in his back. After all, he wasn't quite fourteen anymore, you know.