Mad Masala: Curry Road
The UK's last cooking show host attempts to film a curry recipe while her home is under siege by a post-apocalyptic legion.
No less than twenty muscled, leather-headed mutant men gathered on the hills at their master’s call. All drove through the dead grass on spiked motorcycles or combine harvesters, save for the crazed woman who had somehow brought a twenty-one stone, mutant, blood-lusted stag under her power. There were murmurings in the crowd when they first gathered, but all were silenced when their leader, a giant over two and a half meters and garbed in nothing but a loincloth and a cricket helmet, took his place before them.
When they were quiet, he gave a long look at the crowd and their assembled vehicles before he shouted in his Manchester dialect, “What we gaggin‘ for?”
His acolytes chanted back, “Petrol!”
“And who’s gonna give it to us?”
“Then it’s time to go leave her shrickin‘!”
And with that the legion of riled warriors with cricket bats and lacrosse sticks descended the dying hills of Arcadia toward the tiny abode.
Within, the UK’s favorite Brummie sorcerous was completing some last-second prep in her kitchen. Despite the desolation outside, years of cantrips and dozens of talismans, which ranged from engraved cast iron pans to a heart-shaped locket from her granddaughter, left the building safe from both destruction and irradiation. The mistress of the house set the staff that also served as her rolling pin in one bend, dusted off the summoning circle carved into the floor in the opposite corner, and then took her place at the kitchen’s island where various cans and bags awaited her. With the flip of a switch the little silver-haired witch turned on the camera and began to record.
“A very magical morning to you and welcome to Witchy Kitchy with Mad Missie Mildred! I just want to first take a moment to thank you all for joining me. I know life’s been difficult since the nukes dropped, and it means what’s left of the world to me some of you are still tuning into the BBC for my show. So today—”
Mildred was momentarily silenced by the roar of revved engines just outside her window. She turned only a momentary away from the camera before she continued. “Today, I imagine most of you in your bomb shelters are growing weary of sausage and beans. And if you aren’t, then the other people sharing your oxygen might be. That’s why—”
“Give us the petrol!”
“Yes, give us the petrol, nan!”
The old witch cast a brief glare at the window before she resumed. “That’s why today we’re making a lovely curry from chickpeas called chana masala. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s all shelf stable—”
With a crash a stock brick flew right past Mildred’s head and collided with the coffee grinder she used for spices on the countertop. The witch looked to the camera, put on her best smile and said, “It seems Postman Pat’s gotten a bit more aggressive since Armageddon began. Let me go see what all the fuss is about, be back in a tick.” She switched off her camera, scowled toward the broken window, grabbed her staff, and gave a snarl to the assembly outside. “What’s all this now?”
At the side of the gang’s leader stood a shriveled, boil-faced man with a megaphone who said, “Announcing his greatness, the liege of the siege, and the bull shark of a monarch, Big Willy!”
The crowd chanted back, “Hail Big Willy!”
The giant took the megaphone and glared inward at Mad Missy Mildred. “Big Willy and his lot have drained all of London of her precious gasoline. And we shall tip over every cottage we find for their cherished petrol.”
“Oh, for goodness sake—the bombs only started falling two weeks ago!” Mildred tapped her staff against the kitchen floor. “How did you burn through all the fuel in London so quickly? For that matter, just how long did it take you lot to devolve the third person speaking backs of Ramhams? Where do you even intend to go?”
“We shall ride free to the valley of Near Waxed Wang, where we will know pleasure and greatness beyond description!”
With a raised eyebrow, Mildred asked, “Near Waxed Wang?” She was ancient enough to know the old English concept of the heavenly meadow of Neorxnawang, and how completely Big Willy had butchered the pronunciation. “Is that why there’s nary a hair on your body?”
The woman astride the blood lusted stag beat at its side with her boots. “Enough talk, you old hag! Give us the petrol or we’ll take it by force.”
Mildred raised her staff and old runes with forgotten scripts’ words for, “extra crispy” and “blackened” glowed. “You’ll touch my range over my stake-burned body.”
“That can be arranged.” She whipped the stag into a frenzy with her next kicks. The beast roared and rushed toward Mildred’s cottage as the rest of Big Willy’s gang cheered them on.
“Are you lot English or not?” Mildred smashed her staff against the floor. “Form a queue, all of you.”
A pulse of magical energy extended outward from where Mildred struck the ground. All of Willy’s gang and the stag froze in place with their feet totally immobilized. Their eyes went wide with fear and confusion. Someone toward the back of the formation mustered the gumption to ask, “Wait, she really is a witch? I thought she just played one on the telly.”
The attackers’ legs moved involuntarily thereafter, all attempts to keep still negated as they stiffly moved one foot in front of another and formed a line at Mildred’s window.
“Now if you’d like to use the stove for a cuppa, we can arrange that when I’m done filming my program. Though lemon and cream probably went the way of the dinosaurs, mind you.” Mildred wagged a finger at the gang. “In the meantime, wait quietly while I get back to my curry.”
Big Willy and his gang were left to grumble among themselves as Mildred returned to her camera. “Terribly sorry for that, one and all. Now then, what we’ve got here are two cans of chickpeas. I’ve heard of folks making biscuits with the water this comes in, but I’ve never—”
“Witch woman!” Big Willy’s aggressive, confident tone had shifted to elongated complaints. “It’s begun to rain!”
She glared back toward the window. “The garden needs love too, you know.”
“It is acid rain,” the leader said. “And Big Willy is sheathed by not but his knickers!”
“Acidity is good for a great deal of things. It improves flavor, it curdles milk into cheese, and it’s necessary in meat tenderization.”
Big Willy and his compatriots felt the sting of the sulfurous downpour, moaned in pain, and, indeed, their meat felt tenderized.
“Right, getting back to the ask at hand.” Mildred pointed to each of her cans as she went down the line. “We’ve got our two cans of chickpeas, a can of chilies, one tube of tomato paste—” The groans of pain outside grew louder and increasingly intolerable. “Well if you hadn’t been such a sorry lot to begin with, you wouldn’t be locked out there, now would you?” She picked up a resealable bag. “And of course, any bag of garam masala you might have in the house—” Mildred froze when she lifted it and turned over the container to confirm her fears. Her stock of curry powder was completely exhausted. With a stomp of her foot she cursed, “Bugger!”
There were plenty of whole spices in the house, but with her grinder destroyed by the brick, she had no efficient way to pound them to dust. And if she had to hear any more complaining from the crowd outside, she may well go even madder.
It was then a solution to both problems struck her. Mad Missie Mildred returned to the window and called out, “Mister Willy? I might have a task for you after all, if you’re willing to be polite.”
The acolytes all screamed, “Give us the petrol!”
But Big Willy said, “State your terms, witch.”
“I need a big, strong man to help me crush some spices,” she said. “If you’ll help me, you can come out from the rain and even join me for a lovely meal.”
“No!” cried Big Willy’s stubby, grubby herald. “We come only for the petrol—”
“Oh, shut your gob.” Big Willy smacked his announcer in the back of the head hard enough to knock him down. Or at least knock him over as far as he could with his feet still stuck to the ground. He had every intention of claiming what they’d come for, he just needed to play the part. “I accept.”
The magical hold on his feet was released and Big Willy stepped into Mildred’s cottage. Within steps of the entryway he eyed her grill and rubbed his hands in anticipation of how he would finally claim his precious gasoline. The old woman was fierce though, he was sure of it. He just needed to await the right moment to strike when her back was turned.
“Right then, chunk these up for me.” She handed him a bowl full of coriander, fenugreek, and mustard seeds.
Big Willy poured them out onto the countertop and beat them with his cricket bat while Mildred went to work opening her cans of chickpeas and chilies. The moment she looked away, he would bludgeon her like he did the spices.
“Capital work, thank you.” Mildred scooped up the spice mix and turned to fry them in a pan with olive oil.
The giant gripped his bat tight, slipped up behind the witch, and raised his weapon high. But then the smell of the aromatic spices struck him, and it was far better than anything he had inhaled since the bombs went off. He froze and, when Mildred walked past him, she paid him no mind.
“Delicious dish this masala,” she said. “So much protein when there’s not a bite of animal in it.”
“It… it does smell well fit,” Big Willy said.
“And it’s easy to feed a crowd with,” Mildred said. “Even one as big as yours.”
Big Willy shook his head and tried to refocus on the task at hand as she prepared the sautéed. But as much as he wanted to cave in her head and steal her petrol, the smell was just so intoxicating, and he was sure the taste would be even better. He just had to wait a little longer.
Thirty minutes later, when the gravy was thick and the basmati rice was tender, Mildred offered Big Willy his first taste. And though killing the witch was still on his mind, he accepted a flavorful spoonful.
Outside, his forces grumbled among themselves. The acid rain had ceased, but they remained trapped by Mildred’s spell. It was the woman atop the stag who called out, “Look!” when their leader finally returned.
Big Willy looked long and hard among them before he raised his hands and called out, “We must leave this cottage be. There is no need to steal the witch’s petrol.” He allowed his servants to exchange confused looks for a moment before he confirmed, “For we have already found the paradise of Near Waxed Wang, and it is this woman’s glorious cooking!”
None of the gang knew what to make of the proclamation until Mad Missie Mildred stepped out of the house with dozens of enchanted plates of chana masala floating behind her. “There’s enough to feed a small army, even one full of wankers like you lot!”
The skepticism remained among the crowd, some called, “The Willy’s gone soft!” until plates were before them all and even the most reluctant took their first bite. And all in an instant, their rage dissipated as mouthfuls of food so rich, so spicy, and so delicious overwhelmed every one of them. And when the meal was over, all cheered for the delicious paradise they’d found at world’s end.