In an effort to find manly recompense for my failed journey into the depths of South America, I have found what many believe to be the equivalent to such an expedition—the ThaiFire challenge of Chef Aut at Top Thai #1. He promises me that his Gaeng Tai Pla boasts many of the same properties as the Rio da Dúvida, but with less immediate risk of death, though he would not rule it out completely. Nor would I have wanted him to. As I always like to say, if you do not face down death at the dinner table, then why dine at all?
6:42 P.M. The bowl is placed before me, leering like the third eye on Lucifer’s forehead. It is an ugly thing, the kind that, if spotted in the jungle, I would impale with a serrated spear and set fire to. I do not possess such a luxury now. I must consume it.
“You’ve got thirty minutes,” Chef Aut tells me, laying a spoon next to the bowl.
“I’ll conquer it in twelve,” I say. “And bring me a ladle.”
6:43 P.M. The first scoop greets me with a warm embrace, the likes of which I shared with my mother as a boy. My throat is tickled, but I do not feel like laughing. I fear that something has ridden into my gullet on the back of this calming cavalry, and I think it to be a ploy. But I am never caught unawares, and I shan’t be now. Go bravely, go bravely.
6:46 P.M. I fear I have made a grievous mistake in asking for a ladle. In condensing a second and then a third and still yet a fourth helping into the pit of my stomach, it feels as though I have welcomed the full company of Hell into my gut. And they’ve invited friends. The party has spilled over into my esophagus and I find myself gasping for air.
“Would you like some ice chips?” Chef Aut asks me.
“Ice is for penguins,” I say. “And chips are for Brits.”
I dig in for another helping. Alas, it appears as though the quicker I eat this foul beast, the quicker it will die. What marvel.
6:52 P.M. My cheeks have burned themselves to numbness. Chef Aut must have constructed this sauce with extracts from the venom sacks of the wandering spider. How sporting of him. Pain is a mental bitch, but I am a physical man. I grit my teeth and grunt but once, as a man passing a kidney stone, and press on. My vision may be fading, but my willpower walks on.
6:57 P.M. I used to believe that the measure of a man was his ability to face the world and invite its worst while giving it nothing but your best. I may need to reprise that. The measure of a man may well be his ability to ladle into his throat that which is surely killing him.
7:08 P.M. Confounded nature, the blight dreams of deepest Amazonia have found me again. The angles with which this foul creature strikes. It is unfair. Just when you’ve wrestled the curry to the ground, the chili peppers grip you by the throat and wail like a screaming piha. I see a severed seal head floating above me, like the one I bought as a boy. It speaks to me,
“Teddy,” he says. “Teddy. Why have you forsaken me?”
He’s opening fire on me from atop Kettle Hill, the bastard.
“The Gatlings! The Gatlings!” I cry. But here I still sit, staring into the face of this damned Gaeng Tai Pla, as ugly as it is mean. Its offspring cling to my combed mustache like flaming leeches, desperate for blood. And I lack the strength of tongue to neutralize them.
7:12 P.M. If it is necessary for me to leave my bones in Top Thai #1, I am quite ready to do so. It comes for all of us, the hooded rider, I just never thought he would look like Chef Aut. Such a small creature. Like a field mouse. What a battle this has been.
7:14 P.M. Bully on death. The pain I feel tomorrow will not deaden the success of vanquishing my foe today. If John Flammang Schrank could not kill me with a bullet, and if the Amazon could not kill me with malaria, Chef Aut shall not kill me with a pickled fish bladder.