“I’ll have the sauteed salmon with dill butter.” Madeline folded up her menu and passed it to the waitress.
“Alrighty, that comes with a soup or salad. Which one can I get you, hon?”
“Hmmm, I’m not sure. We’ve never been here before. What do you recommend?”
“Oh, I always recommend the soup. The soup is good! It’s honestly my favorite thing on the menu.”
“Wow, high praise! It’s decided, then.”
“Excellent choice, ma’am. You won’t be disappointed.” The waitress shifted her focus to Harold, who was still grimacing at the entrees section. “And you, hon?”
“Gimmie a minute. Still trying to figure out what I want.”
“The chicken cordon bleu is really good.”
Harold glanced up from his menu. “Don’t do chicken. Trying to decide between the porterhouse or the New York Strip.”
“Oh. Well, the gentleman at the next table ordered the porterhouse and said it was excellent.” The server grinned widely.
“Eh, fine. I’ll take that, medium rare, with a garden salad.”
The server’s smile retreated as she stared blankly at Harold. She cleared her throat. “Actually, as I was telling your date a second ago, I think that the soup is the better choice.”
“I appreciate the input, miss, but I like a salad with my steak.” Harold held out the menu.
“But… but sir… the… the soup is good. It… it is an excellent choice and I highly recommend it.” She ignored the menu that Harold was now frantically waving in her direction.
The man with the porterhouse leaned over toward Harold and Madeline’s table. “I’ve gotta agree with lady, the soup is just out of this world. It goes great with a thick, juicy steak.”
“See, what did I tell you? The soup is good!” The waitress tried to sound playful.
“Why don’t you just try the soup, Harold?” Madeline said hastily, shielding herself from the glances of the other patrons.
“God damn it!” Harold slammed his fist onto the table. “If I wanted to try the damn soup I’d try the damn soup, but I want a salad with my steak!”
A man in a finely pressed dress shirt and overalls adorned with a rainbow of gaudy pins walked up to Harold. “I’m the manager. Is there a problem here, sir?”
“You bet your ass there’s a problem!” Blooms of pink spread across Harold’s scouring face. “I’m just trying to order my dinner and my waitress here refuses to let me order a salad with my steak like I always do!”
“Ah, I see. That definitely is a problem, sir.” The manager looked over to the waitress. “Did you tell him how delicious the soup was?”
“Of course, sir! I poured my heart and soul into my recommendation and he still refuses to try the soup.”
“Yes, that is unfortunate.” The manager looked back to Harold. “I can assure you, sir, the soup is quite good. You really should step out of your comfort zone.”
“That’s it. Madeline, grab your coat, we’re leaving.”
Harold stood up from the booth and started walking toward the door, but he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Harold,” Madeline said, calmly, “we really should try the soup. Soup is good.”
“Yes, Harold,” the waitress joined in, “just give it a chance. All you need is one little taste and then you’ll realize that soup is good.”
“Soup is good, Harold,” droned the manager.
“Yes. Soup is good,” the man with the porterhouse stood up from his seat and walked toward Harold.
“Soup is good. Soup is good.” The whole restaurant joined together in a monotone chorus. The manager and the waitress held him by the arms and forced him to the floor. Harold struggled to free himself, but their grip was inhuman. A wall of chanting faces surrounded him, each one lifeless and foreign, even his Madeline. One of them, a man dressed in a white chef coat, stepped forward, cradling a small porcelain mug in his palms.
“No! No, I don’t want your damn dirty soup! Leave me alone! get away!”
Madeline stepped forward and cradled Harold’s cheek in her right hand. “Quiet, Harold. It will all be over soon.” She placed her left hand on Harold’s chin and forced his mouth open, her nails digging into the flesh on his face. The chef placed the cup of soup to Harold’s lips and poured it in. Harold imbibed the warm, viscous liquid until the mug was empty. He snatched the cup from the chef’s hands and proceeded to lick it clean like a starving dog. He looked up meekly at the ring of people surrounding him and wiped his gunk-caked mouth with the sleeve of his coat.
“Yes… I see now what all the fuss was about. Soup… soup is good.”