Peter took a plate from a stack of fresh plates that a waiter had just set out. The plate was warm. The breads at the front of the buffet table looked good, so Peter took a wedge of focaccia and a wedge of dark rye, and a little bread stick the size of a pencil. He told himself not to fill up on bread. That was bad buffet practice. But he did love bread.
He lifted the lids on the soup tureens one by one and had a look. The minestrone smelled good, so he ladled out a bowl. He frowned because the bowl covered so much of his plate, hogging precious room. He had to remind himself that this was a buffet—he could always come back for more, no need to panic.
He nearly passed over a tray of finger sandwiches, reasoning that sandwiches were something he could make at home, and it seemed a shame to fill up on sandwiches at a buffet. But the truth was that Peter really liked sandwiches, and in particular tuna sandwiches, which he noticed were on offer, so he took one. They were tiny sandwiches, really, he wouldn’t fill up. He took two.
He took a leg of fried chicken and some meatballs. He took some Caesar salad and a little blop of coleslaw. He took corn on the cob. Soon he was running out of space on his plate.
The buffet table ended near an open door, and when Peter came to the end, he looked beyond the door and saw—to his surprise—another buffet table. He took some red Jell-O cubes and walked out of the dining room.
The next table stretched through a sunny atrium. Peter saw chow mein, lemon chicken, deep fried shrimp balls. He saw spicy beef and broccoli and spring rolls. He looked at his plate with sudden dismay. He hadn’t known there was a whole section of Chinese food. He considered dumping some of the wedges of bread, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it; until he saw the Chinese food, he’d really thought he had a perfect plate, a perfect balance of everything. Instead of dumping the bread he grabbed a fork from a bin and pushed and piled the food on his plate to make room for more. He considered eating a wedge of bread to free up some room, or maybe one of the finger sandwiches, but he really wanted to enjoy his buffet meal sitting down, so despite his growing hunger he ate nothing. He reached for the spoon in the tray of fried rice. He took a bit of almost everything.
He came to the end of the table, where he smelled chlorine and heard the echoing cries of children at play, and he saw that the atrium led to an indoor swimming pool. Tables with starfish-patterned tablecloths were set up all around the pool and spread with plates of smoked salmon and tiger prawns and tilapia fillets and even crab and lobster. Peter hadn’t known there was a whole seafood section. He looked at his plate with dismay. There was simply no more room. But at the same time, he felt happy with his selection and he just couldn’t bring himself to abandon anything he’d chosen. He looked over his shoulder. All the other diners were busy clamping shrimp balls or bok choi with tongs, so Peter seized the opportunity. He knelt and lifted the tablecloth of the last table in the Chinese buffet. He set his plate on the floor under the table and let the tablecloth fall. He would come back for the plate later, after he’d made his seafood selection. He grinned and rubbed his hands together.
He took lobster, lots of lobster. You’d be crazy not to. You paid a flat price, so rationally you should load up on expensive items over non-expensive items. But Peter did love mussels, so he took some of those, and he did love clams, so he took some of those, and the paella looked good, so he took a spoonful of that. He paused at the chowder tureen. No, no, the bowl would cover too much of his plate . . . but he did love chowder. He grabbed a teacup and filled it with chowder. That was a smart solution.
As he came to the last table of the seafood buffet, he happened to glance up at an open set of French doors.
“Oh, no,” he said.
The doors opened onto a patio where two chefs in hats were shaving slices of shawarma off turning blocks. Peter looked at his plate and groaned. He used a serving spoon to push his seafood as far to one side as possible, then he followed the smell of roasting lamb out the doors.
The patio was bright and wide, and bordered a garden where chefs were turning whole pigs on spits. Other chefs were grilling steaks, while diners stood by the grills telling the chefs whether they preferred rare or medium or well-done or what. Peter asked for a rare steak. He asked for a grilled chicken kebab. His plate was now full. He looked over his shoulders. He hid the plate under a topiary swan.
He took another plate and wandered to a part of the garden where sushi chefs were slicing raw fish. They placed their creations on a moving belt, and diners took what they liked. Peter followed the belt, plucking off whatever looked good. He followed the belt to a long stone staircase. On every step of the staircase was a little wooden serving board; on every board was a little Japanese dish. Peter scaled the staircase, stopping here and there to pick up any dish that looked good. He transferred the dishes to his plate with a pair of wooden chopsticks he’d taken from a bin. He came to the top of the staircase and entered a bowling alley. Set up on the lanes were tables of bratwurst and sauerkraut and strudel. He took some sausages and hid his plate off in a corner behind a vending machine. He took another plate and continued on.
There were tables of pasta in a parking lot. There were tables of pies in a movie theater. There were tables of fruit, just fruit, every fruit you can think of, set up amid the stacks in a library. Peter filled a plate with fruit and hid it on the bottom shelf of Mesoamerican History.
Just then, God appeared.
“What are you doing, Peter?” God said.
Peter stood up. His heart began to thump.
“Nothing,” he said to God.
“Peter, don’t lie to me. Are you crazy?”
“I was just setting my plate down for a second.” He bent to retrieve it.
“What about all the other plates you’ve hidden today? Hm? What about them?”
Peter did not retrieve the plate. He stood. His stomach growled.
“I’m sorry, God,” he said. “I guess I got greedy.”
“I’d say you did,” God said. “It’s a buffet, Peter. You take what you can eat and you take no more. Did you think you could eat all that food?”
Peter stuck his hands in his pockets. “I guess not.”
“Did you think you could take the food with you? Put it in a tupperware?”
Peter shook his head.
“No,” God said. “That’s right. You can’t take the food with you. It’s a buffet, Peter. It’s a buffet. And you broke the buffet rules, so now I have to punish you. I don’t want to, Peter, but you’ve left me no choice. Just remember, you brought this on yourself.”
Then God snapped his fingers, and the next thing Peter knew he was back in his car in the buffet parking lot. And he was hungry. Starving. He thought about sneaking back in, but he looked at the door and saw a banner above it with a picture of his face and big bold lettering that said, THIS GUY CAN’T COME IN HERE.
Peter sighed, turned the key in the ignition, and went home to eat crackers and cereal.
Trevor Shikaze‘s fiction has appeared in American Chordata, Cheap Pop, Wyvern Lit, and elsewhere. Find him online at www.trevorshikaze.com.