Eating Machine
A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Marble"
Originally featured on 12-06-2007
As part of our series "Things Both Flat and Round"

David Murphy was an eating machine.

As he lifted the sandwich to his mouth, the two other eighth-graders at the lunch table, Gary and Ryan, and the lone seventh-grader, Paul, stared at him eagerly. Just before he took a bite, he looked at them and grinned. Then he sunk his teeth in. Paul winced. Gary smiled. Ryan cheered. David took two more quick bites and the sandwich was gone.

“Yes, ladies and gentleman, he’s done it!” Ryan said loudly, causing several people around the crowded cafeteria to crane their necks to gawk at him. “A tuna and Twinkie sandwich! Another absolutely disgusting meal eaten by the eating machine, David Murphy!”

Gary and Paul clapped as did a few other people at some nearby tables.

“He’ll eat anything!” Ryan yelled before getting a glare from the history teacher Mr. Jeffries. David grinned and took a sip from his juice box.

David would eat almost anything, and it wasn’t because he was fat, in fact he was rather thin, but he just seemed to have an insatiable appetite and a fast metabolism. Plus years earlier he had discovered — after being dared to eat a boloney and Play-doh sandwich — that he had a high tolerance for foul-tasting foods, and also how much that special talent could entertain his friends.

David did have some rules in regards to his eating. The first was that it had to be real food. That rule was enacted when Becky Jonesmore — having witnessed him eat a crusty piece of meatloaf covered in strawberry yogurt — asked if he would eat the Styrofoam plate it had just sat on. David had thought about it for a minute but then politely declined. Nope, no plates or paper cups or plastic spoons, it had to be actual food.

However, if you could prove that someone somewhere at some time had eaten something — like when Larry Bloom had found an article in an old National Geographic about a tribe in South America that ate dirt — David would accept it. It took him a while to get it down, but he had eaten a dirt sandwich that day.

Another of David’s rules — and arguable the most important — was that the food couldn’t be bad or spoiled. This rule came into effect after Mitch Dawson had one day brought into school a carton of cottage cheese he had found in the back of his refrigerator. The expiration date wasn’t legible but Ryan later claimed the company wasn’t even in business anymore. David, always the trooper, had held his nose and ate a spoonful. He was just about to eat some more when his stomach made a loud gurgling noise. He then bolted for the bathroom — not quite making it — and ended up puking all over some band equipment in the hallway.

The final rule (and David’s personal) was that, as long it was a reasonable quantity, he had to finish the entire meal. He was taught at a very early age it was important to clean your plate; after all, there were starving people in the world.

A week after the tuna and Twinkie sandwich, Ryan showed up at lunch with a large paper bag.

“What do you got there?” Gary asked.

Ryan grinned and dropped the bag on the table.

“Oh, just something for David.”

Ryan was always trying to stump David. Hamburgers covered in marmalade, anchovy and pineapple pizza topped with black jelly beans, and peanut butter and spicy relish were only a few of his past creations. But it never seemed to matter what concoction he came up with, David would inevitably scarf it down.

Gary rolled his eyes. “Don’t you ever get tired of watching him eat gross stuff?”

Ryan looked puzzled. “Uh, no.”

“Okay, what so do you have today?” Paul asked.

Ryan quickly opened the bag. “Even the eating machine might not be able to handle this.” He took out a small plastic container. “Egg salad.” The next one he took out held a greenish substance. “Guacamole.”

In all he had six foods he planned to mix together. Liverwurst, goat cheese, crab meat, and a piece of marble cheesecake rounded out the list. Ryan pulled out a large bowl and spoon and began combining the ingredients.

“That’s disgusting,” Gary said.

“Yes it is,” Ryan said with a smile.

“Smells good.”

All three looked up to see David.

“Ah, just the man we’ve been waiting for,” Ryan said. “Hungry?”

“Always,” David said and sat down. “What do you got for me today?”

“Well, let’s just say it’s a little bit of everything. Dig in.”

Ryan slid the bowl across the table. David grabbed the spoon and started eating.

“Macaroni salad, nice,” he said with a mouthful. “And is that goat cheese? Mmm, my favorite.”

Gary, Paul, and Ryan smiled; the latter looked especially satisfied.

When David was about halfway finished, his face started getting very red.

“You alright, David?” Paul asked.

David glanced up. “Yeah, why?”

“You’re all red and wait, what is on your neck?”

Thick, maroon lines had suddenly appeared all over. David touched his neck gently.

“Oh, is there crab in this? I’m allergic. But it’s no big deal.” He continued eating.

The ropes of red began forming all over his face. All of a sudden one near his left ear swelled and burst; a milky white fluid oozed out of it.

“Uh, David,” Ryan said. “Maybe you should stop eating now.”

David shook his head. “I’m fine, this happened before. I’m almost done anyway.”

Fat, shiny boils on his cheeks and forehead were now splitting and dripping pus.

“I gotta go!” Paul muttered and quickly got up from the table and bolted out of the lunchroom.

“David, um, maybe you should, uh, go see the nurse,” Gary said softly.

“Gary, relax. I’m fine, okay?”

The now reddish-brown pus started seeping down his face; some of it dripped onto his shirt. A large, syrupy chunk fell onto Gary’s math book. Gary made a sound like a muffled grunt and got up quickly, knocking his chair over, and followed Paul’s path out of the cafeteria.

“Almost done,” David said.

Just as he lifted the final spoonful, a boil near his nose exploded. A river of pus flowed down his face and drizzled onto his upper lip. It hung there for a split-second and then joined the spoon as it entered his mouth.

“There,” David said, taking a napkin and dabbing the corners of his mouth. “You got anything else for me?”

Ryan, now looking quite green, dry heaved and then got up and stumbled towards the exit. David shrugged and watched him go. Suddenly he sneezed and a piece of skin resembling a gooey hunk of bacon flew off his face and stuck against a large poster on the wall proclaiming it was “Chilidog Thursday.”

“Oh my god,” David said, staring at the poster. “I can’t believe I almost forgot it was chilidog day.” He stood up quickly and scurried to the lunch line.

David Murphy was an eating machine.

Read More By Tim Josephs

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