Shropshire Smith and the Temple of Vegetables
Even though the Brussels sprouts in the vestibule should have been enough to warn us of the dangers that lay ahead, still we ventured on, deeper into the darkness, the unknown and the danger. There were rumours of parsnips deeper in those dark tunnels, so we took all the obvious precautions, even though we lost Simpkiss in a terrible sudden avalanche of carrots that poured from a trapdoor in the ceiling and buried him alive.
It was not all bad news though; at least when we camped that night we all had a bowl of hot fresh carrot and coriander soup. As there was now only me and my Research Assistant, Honeythighs Dishabille, left of the expedition, there was plenty of the soup for both of us. The roast for the main course, that followed the soup, was a bit of a disappointment though – being rather tough – but then Simpkiss had been getting on in years. We therefore had put his fatal misfortune down to his being not quite so sprightly as he once was and agreed to try him cold on sandwiches the next day.
However, we moved on the next morning, each of us terribly aware of the dangers of cauliflower that now would – probably – confront us. All through that morning Honeythighs held tight onto my hand as we carefully made our way down the convoluted corridors towards the lost treasures we knew we could reach, if only… if only… we survived the radishes.
About midday that day, I took a step, and then something… some sixth sense told me not to move. I held out my flickering, stuttering, torch, and there it was in front of us. A pit seemed to go deeper into the blackest blackness of all eternity. I lay down on my front and carefully held my torch over the pit. There below we could both see the huge carpet of cauliflowers that lay on the bottom of the pit. Just one single step further and that would have been my fate. I shivered as I got to my knees, looking for a way around the pit.
We knew it was not far, that any time soon we would find our way to the room that housed the legendary Holy Vegetable Peeler of the Gods. Like everyone, we’d heard the legends that told of that mythical device by which the High Priest rulers of the ancient civilisations had used to tame and then wield the fearsome power of vegetables over their cowed subjects.
“What’s that?” Honeythighs said grabbing me.
“Oh, sorry, it’s just where I was rubbing along the ground. It gets like that sometimes.
“But… it’s so hard!”
“Thanks, but I thought you liked it when it is like this?”
“No, not that… this search for the Legendary Vegetable Peeler of the Gods, it is so hard. Do you think we’ll ever get out of these tunnels alive?”
“Of course,” I said. “After all I do have this ancient A-Z which shows all the routes through the temple.” I held the map book up into the light of my torch and suddenly realised I’d been holding it upside down since I’d picked it back up at the side of the pit. “Hang on…” I said, pointing to a passage off to our right. “It’s just down here.”
Suddenly we were in a massive high-ceiling room that merged into dark shadows at the edges of the pools of light cast by our torches. In front of us were rows of kitchen units, every one with several drawers each.
“Oh no,” said Honeythighs, squeezing my whip in despair. “It will take us ages to search all those to find which is the real utensil drawer.”
“Wait,” I said, suddenly remembering an old lecture from my mentor, Professor Puddleduck. “It may not be impossible after all. Professor Puddleduck said that this tribe usually regarded only one particular drawer in one particular kitchen unit as being sacred enough to contain the holy kitchen utensils. The Vegetable Peeler of the Gods will be in that drawer!” Purposefully I headed towards what I hoped would be that drawer.
Just as I was about to open that particular drawer, some instinct made me pause. I knew that the High Priests of the Vegetables sometimes booby-trapped their utensil drawers so that those without the requisite arcane knowledge would be caught how if they ever attempted to get their hands on any of the most holy kitchen utensils.
After carefully feeling around the edge of the drawer for switches, levers or other booby-trapping devices, I began, slowly, to ease the drawer open, pausing when it was open less than an inch.
“Shine your torch in there,” I whispered to Honeythighs.
Moments later Honeythighs was leaning over me so her substantial frontage rubbed against my back, reminding me of that unforgettable evening in Cairo with the temple priestess and the watermelons. I could feel myself blushing, and then wished I could just feel myself.
“Look!” Honeythighs said, bringing me back to the matter in hand from the matter I wished was in her hot tight hand.
“Wha…? Oh, I see…. Cunning…. Very cunning.” From where we sat together peering into the utensil drawer we could see that the High Priests of the Temple of Vegetables had so positioned the potato masher, that any attempt to open the drawer by someone not privy to the secret would irrevocably jam the door.
Carefully… very carefully, Honey thighs eased her fingers into the drawer and took a firm grip on the potato masher. I could feel the sweat pouring down my back as I thought both of what would have happened if we had not discovered the booby trap in time, and also what it would be like to feel those dexterous fingers closing around my own personal potato masher. I gulped, feeling the urgency of my thoughts pressing into Honeythighs’ leg; she looked at me and smiled.
Exciting, isn’t it?” she said, licking her lips.
Eventually, she managed to disable the trap and we could open the drawer completely.
I searched through the drawer… twice.
“It… it isn’t here!”
I could hear the despair in Honeythighs’ voice. I sighed and made to get up.
“Wait!” I cried, getting to my feet and almost running over to the sink. “Look there, on the draining board, under that pile of saucepans and the Pyrex casserole dishes!”
Honeythighs was the first to reach the Holy Vegetable Peeler. She began to pull it from the pile of now dry and dusty washing up.
“Noooo...!” I screamed, but it was too late.
The pile of washing up had been deliberately placed in a very precarious situation, heaped up above the Holy Vegetable Peeler right up to the roof. As Honeythighs pulled the peeler free, already pieces of the temple ceiling began to tumble around her.
I leapt towards her.
Somehow, I don’t know how, my leap – as I grabbed Honeythighs – took us both just beyond the tumbling pile of washing up and the collapsing temple roof. We lay still my body covering and protecting hers, as the saucepans, casserole dishes, plates and deadly drinking glasses fell and shattered all around us.
“Quickly,” I said, getting to my feet and pulling Honeythighs to hers. “Run! We must get out of here now. Can you remember the way out?”
She nodded, still dazed by the tumbling washing up that still fell around us as the temple crumbled. I pushed her; she stumbled first, but then began to run. Behind us, I could hear an ominous rumbling sound as we ran down the long sloping corridor to the exit. I turned….
“Oh shit!” I yelled, causing Honeythighs to stumble and turn. I could see the fear widen her eyes and threaten to leave her rooted to the spot until… until it was too late.
“No, don’t look back. Just run!”
My urgency got her moving again. I ran too, also not daring to look back to see that huge turnip rolling inexorably down the narrow corridor behind us… gaining on us. I knew that even if I could get it from my backpack without breaking my run, my potato masher would be useless against such a monstrous vegetable. I knew that in any encounter between us, one of us would end as puree and it wouldn’t be that turnip.
It was no good, the giant turnip was gaining on us as we ran down the sloping corridor towards the exit. Glancing forward I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Quickly I pulled Honeythighs towards me and stepped back into the alcove behind me, less than a second later the turnip rumbled past us.
It took us a while to get our breath back. Eventually we looked into each other’ eyes as we stood pressed close to each other in that alcove.
“Is that your potato masher I can feel, pressing into my thigh?” Honeythighs asked, smiling up at me under the dirt, dust and grime that covered her face.
“No,” I said, smiling back.
“Good,” she said.
“It is a pity we lost the Holy Vegetable Peeler, though, under the collapse of the temple like that,” I said. “Even if we searched for a thousand years, I doubt if we could ever find it again.” I sighed.
Honeythighs grinned up at me. “I’ve got something to show you,” she said reaching into the waistband of her torn and tattered trousers.
“Er… are you sure this is the right place for that?“ I said.
“Oh, yes….” She pulled her hand from her trousers and opened it in front of me. On her palm lay the Holy Vegetable Peeler.
“How… why… when...?” I stuttered as she handed me the Holy Vegetable Peeler and then used her same hand to check I hadn’t been lying about my potato masher.
Some time later… well, a few times later, we left the remains of the temple and headed for home with the Holy Vegetable Peeler safe in a specially-padded box ready for its long journey back to its place of honour in the British Kitchen Utensil Museum in London.
The First 'Tales of the Unexpurgated' book is available here for the Kindle.