“Adventure awaits the adventurous,” the hag told me. I nodded at the disguised young woman, paid my five dollars, then walked out of the fortune teller’s tent. I let loose the chuckle I’d been holding in since the woman’s nose began to slip revealing her real nose underneath, and surveyed the crowd flowing through the carnival grounds. My stomach growled, but a turkey leg and some kettle corn wouldn’t be enough. I walked towards my car and figured I’d decide on the way.
When I slammed the door shut a single menu fell from the small stack I kept in the passenger side visor. I saw the menu, but didn’t bother to put it back. I started my car and headed towards the Chinese restaurant, my favorite restaurant, pictured on the menu. Donna Chang’s. Their sweet and sour chicken tasted perfect every time. The crispy coating of the chicken crunched like a cracker, the bright red sauce somehow alternated between sugary sweet and puckering sour every single bite. It was disconcerting at first, but I loved it by the time I finished the first plate. It was all I ever ordered in the three years since, and it never left me disappointed. Drool threatened to overflow out of my mouth by the time I reached the small red and gold building. I walked in, the small silver bell over the door informed the workers they had a customer.
“Mr. Ruiz! Sit down. We will start your plate now,” the owner, Mrs. Chang said. Every time I visited she seemed genuinely happy to see me, and often referred to me as her favorite customer. 90% of the time I visited, it seemed I was her only dine-in customer, but I chalked it up to the modern age of convenience. Before she walked to the back the voice of the carnival fortune teller echoed through my mind.
“Mrs. Chang, wait! Can I look at the menu?” I asked. She turned toward me with a smile.
“You’re so funny! You always get sweet and sour. I’ll get you sweet and sour,” she turned to face the kitchen, but I spoke up again.
“No, really. I’m feeling *adventurous* today,” I said. Changing my usual order didn’t seem all that adventurous, but I paid five bucks for that particular platitude. I decided to get some use out of it. I’d never seen anything other than a smile on Mrs. Chang’s face, but she definitely wasn’t smiling now. She stared at me through slitted eyes, then smiled again.
“Okay Mr. Ruiz. Let me get you a menu.” She disappeared into the back, and I sat down in my favorite booth. The bell over the door sounded again, and two young men walked in. Both wearing black ski caps, white muscle shirts, and low sagging jeans.
“Picking up two Dragonhearts,” one of them said to the cashier. She walked through the kitchen door and came back out before it swung shut. Dragonheart. I’d heard that phrase a lot over the years. It sounded exotic, and spicy. I wasn’t much for spicy food, but tonight was all about adventure. Mrs. Chang returned with a menu after the two men left with their food. I felt bad that she looked so hard for it, and I wasn’t even going to glance at it. She handed it to me with a smile, but I held my hand up.
“Sorry Mrs. Chang. I changed my mind, I don’t need the menu.” Her smile grew larger. The bell over the door rang again, but she kept her eyes on me.
“I tell you. Sweet and sour chicken coming up, ten minutes.” She turned, but I stopped her.
“No, I know what I want. I’ll try the Dragonheart.” Her head whipped around, her eyes slitted again. She studied me for what felt like minutes, then her eyes softened.
“We’re out. I’ll bring you sweet and sour. On the house.” Before she took two steps, the young woman that walked in gave her order to the cashier.
“Dragonheart.” The cashier fluttered in and out of the kitchen in an instant.
“Are you sure you’re out?” I asked. I heard angry Chinese words pour from her mouth directed at cashier, who blushed furiously. Then she turned to me with a pleasant smile. She surprised me by sitting down in the booth across from me. I noticed the cashier followed the young woman to the door, then locked it after the customer left. She ran to the back.
“Mr. Ruiz, my favorite customer! You don’t want Dragonheart. You love the chicken. I’ll give you free chicken from now on, huh?” She wrangled her hands nervously on the table.
“I wanted to try something new,” I said, debating how much use I’d get out of free sweet and sour chicken any time I wanted. What if I didn’t like the Dragonheart? Is it worth an unknown quantity of free food?
“New? Okay, sweet and sour pork. Besides, you can’t afford Dragonheart.” My hands clenched under the table. I almost went for the deal, but telling me I couldn’t afford something was a big mistake. I’d worked hard to make my money. She probably didn’t know I was one of the richest people in the world. In general I didn’t flaunt it, but I hated being judged by my appearance just because I liked to dress comfortably.
“Dragonheart. Price is not a factor,” I said.
“1 million dollars,” She said flatly. The price surprised me, but I did not flinch. She was testing me, or she wasn’t. Either way it was pocket change. I pulled out my black bank card and placed it on the table.
“Dragonheart,” I repeated. She sighed and took the card from the table.
“You take it to go, can’t eat here,” she said then disappeared into the kitchen. She was back in a flash with a giant white bag and my card. I stood from the booth and took my order. “Leave. Please come again if you survive,” she said. I began to ask what she meant but she shooed me towards the door.
The big bag felt heavier than I expected, but I hoped that meant it was a lot of food. It was probably better that I didn’t eat there if it was spicy. I got into my car and stared at the white plastic bag on my lap. I opened it to reveal a single large white and red box. The top was sealed with a golden sticker. Chinese writing circled the outer part of the sticker, and something resembling a flame decorated the center of the sticker.
“Great, it’s spicy,” I complained. I opened the box. A cloud of steam rolled out of the container, blocking my view. The first thing I noticed was the sound, like a rhythmic thumping. Once the billow of steam cleared I saw a large red heart, almost as big as my head. It beat rhythmically in the box while steam continued to rise from its surface.