Eight pints later, the only thing he wanted was food. On his walk home he’d hazily remembered the block of mature cheddar sitting in the fridge and the last of the bread in the cupboard. Cheese on toast. Like a beer sponge, it would soak everything up nicely.
After fumbling with the wrong key for ten minutes, tripping over the same doorstep he’d tripped through for the past five years, he made straight for the kitchen, to the fridge, and wrestled the door open. The bright light glared. His gloopy eyes took a while to adjust. He searched with them. Both of them. He searched some more. His brain told him that even though it wasn’t functioning at full capacity it still couldn’t see the cheese it had been promised.
In front of fridges across the land people sat staring, looking, eager to satiate the late night craving with the reliable foodstuff of decades before. But they all agreed, it wasn’t there. No cheese.
Deep within the many offices of the Department of Things an occurrence was occurring, and it was causing much excitement amongst the employees. They peered through the cellophane office, watching the forensics who were looking, very carefully.
“I reckon the cleaner’s moved his commemorative Mini-Babybel,” said Morris, arms folded.
“He didn’t like that last time,” remembered Bridget.
“I know. Bet that’s what broke him.”
“Yeah, sent him crackers!” said Doug, always ready, always able to find a quip.
A murmur of giggles swept the gaggle of employees.
“The Head of Things must be blowing his top!”
The Head of Tops shuddered.
The forensics team were having a meeting. It wasn’t a very productive meeting, however. The Department of Things was fraught with panic at their Head of Cheese’s disappearance, apparently with all the cheese of the world. The carefully gloved search of his office had yielded only a few cracker crumbs and the word ‘Revolution’ scribbled on a discarded draft of the Freedom of Cheese Act 2017. The interview with the Head of Things hadn’t been much use. As they’d gone through the evidence, the cracker crumbs, the scribblings of revolutionary cheese, etc, he’d told them how the Head of Cheese had seemed a little out of sorts at their last meeting.
“Did he mention revolution?”
“No. but he did mention how he liked Edams and their ability to revolve. That’s what I thought he meant by revolutionary.” The Head of Things told them about an incident regarding a manic cheese chaser a few months back where the Head of Cheese had come across quite forceful with his retribution of the “…poor lad. Maybe that’s what set him off.”
“What about the Freedom of Cheese Act 2017?”
“Ah, yes,” the Head of Things had chuckled “It was something he was working on. Felt the cheeses needed some rights and so forth. I didn’t think it would do any harm. Thought it might help his stress levels in fact. He was very passionate you see, about cheese and whatnot.” The Head of Things had folded his fingers at this point, adopting a downward stare at his freshly polished desk. “It wouldn’t have gone anywhere. People just don’t care about cheese like he did.”
Deep in a cave some place on this vast planet, the Head of Cheese sat on a rock. He was staring intensely at the dust on the floor. The dust didn’t mind though. It was only dust after all.
“I have done the right thing,” said the Head of Cheese. He remembered back to last Tuesday when, after a particularly poignant conversation with a mature French brie, he’d decided not to secure the carefully negotiated sale of 200,000 circles of the carefully ripened cheese to the Islands of Kiribati, and instead put his wrongdoings right. He felt the overwhelming obligation to save the cheeses, to emancipate the cheeses, the precious cheeses. The world took for granted these wonderful foodstuffs, shovelling them into their mouths like they grew on trees, like there was an infinite resource of cheeses, unappreciative of their careful growth, their nurtured flavours, their individuality and, the Head of Cheese knew, sentient powers of pleasure. Their ability to evolve, their ability to revolve, he loved it all. Cheese across all the lands sat unused and lonely in dark fridges. They should be worshipped. Adored. Cherished and cared for. That’s when the Head of Cheese had constructed his plan on the back of a first draft of the Freedom of Cheese Act 2017. He would take all the cheese and make a revolt. People would hail the revolutionary cheeses. They would crave and dribble at their feet. And as punishment for the years of disrespect they would never be allowed to taste their gloriousness again. Not since the times of Aristeus* would cheese have been so worshiped.
The cave was perfect, so he’d thought, although the unusually high temperatures for the time of year was messing with the ambiance. It was warmer than it should be. But the Head of Cheese didn’t have time for worrying about that. He had a revolution to organise!
“I must create a cheese god,” said the Head of Cheese. “A symbol by which all may worship. A mighty cheese! Just like the one James McIntyre** prophesied. A Ten Ton Cheese God!”
The dust stirred.
“But he’s dripping blood all over my pollock!” said Shirley. “I’m all for these corporate socialism days, but it’s ruining my fish counter!” The man they called Jesus dangled from the wooden cross carefully erected above Shirley’s fish counter. She’d been a loyal BestCo employee for thirteen years, attended the team building days, the creative leadership workshops, and the decorative herbal display demonstration at last year’s Fish Counter Conference. Diligent and proud was Shirley. That’s why this particular social inclusion event for the Crucifixion Re-enactment Party was testing Shirley’s patience. Fine, nail this poor lad to his cross, but couldn’t they do it over the cooked chicken counter instead?
A loud waling came from the end counter, disrupting the chanting Christians’ rhythm for only a second. Dan was very upset. He sat at his empty cheese counter a broken cheesemonger. He loved cheese from the very bottom of his being. As he stared at his spotless yet completely empty cheese counter he couldn’t help but let out a wail of pained depression. Shirley rushed from her blood stained pollock and put a comforting arm around Dan’s sobbing shoulders.
“Don’t worry love,” she said, “They’ll work it out. The authorities. They’re good with this sort of thing. Cheesenapping, and all that.” Shirley wasn’t sure about this, but she did her best to hide her doubts from her comforting tone and adjusted Dan’s blue hairnet. “Poor love.”
In the same cave, the one some place on this vast planet, all the cheeses of the world were huddled in a corner. Some were napping, ironically. Some were smoking. Some looked board, and some were bubbling with rage!
“My bacteria aren’t happy! Not happy at all!” said the Camembert, who kept itching at a patch of pinkish slime on his well-aged rind that he was sure was getting bigger and bigger.
“I know,” agreed the Mature Cheddar as he picked at a bit of blue mould developing on his corner.
The Gouda, the obvious head of the Three Wise Cheeses, cracked as she shifted her position. “Yes, yes, we cannot allow this to go on,” she croaked.
A large Edam revolved around restlessly. The smell of ammonia was getting stronger. The smell of ageing.
“We need to be eaten! Bientôt!” snarled the Roquefort, “I’m losing all of my moisture ‘ere!”
“Stupid French cheese,” muttered the bulky Red Leicester from a dark corner. The French cheese didn’t respond, for he knew not to provoke the hard cheeses. They were quite hard, you see.
“Nothing like this has ever happened in the history of dairying,” yelled a particularly stinky Stilton. “Our great grandfathers would be churning in their cow stomachs!” said a pile of slightly yellowing Cottage Cheese. “It makes my microbes shiver!”
“Good, you could do with more flavour,” spat the Stilton.
“Look!” exclaimed a small piece of Gruyere, “Cheesepoo!*** I’ve started growing cheesepoo I’ve been down here so long!”
A cellophane square floated past them.
“Noooo!” yelled a very orange Cheese Slice. “Russel!” A small group of processed cheeses gathered at a crack in the cave’s wall. They peered down, a very long way down, down the sheer drop to the rocky cliffs below. “Poor Russel,” sobbed the Cheese Slice, “I didn’t think he’d really do it. Just threw off his plastic and jumped.”
“I think he’s dead now,” said a heartless Cheesestring a little too matter-of-factly, “Splatted all over that rock down there.” Muffled sobs filled the processed group, unable to tell the obnoxious little bit of stringy cheese to shut up for fear of blubbering all over each other and melting themselves inadvertently. The Cheesestring’s stringy head lolled further over the devastating scene far below. “I think the sun’s cooking him a bit, look…”
“Stupid over-processed idiots,” growled the Red Leicester.
“We must stay calm,” said the Brie.
“Yes, we must,” agreed the Gouda, “But we also must return to our fridges, and we therefore need a plan.”
The Red Leicester sprang forward from his dark corner, looking even redder than usual. “I know! Me and the lads here, we can spread all the cream cheeses over him till he suffocates, then we can take all the wrappers off them cheese slices and…”
“They’re not real cheese anyway,” said a bruised looking block of Mimolette.
“Exactly,” nodded the Red Leicester. “We can wrap him up in their plastic, like an Egyptian cheese, then make our escape!” The hard cheese grinned at his own suggestion.
“Nice plan, Red,” said an intimidating block of White Cheddar.
No arguments were forthcoming, mainly on account of the hard cheeses being very big, very bulky, and extremely…well…hard.
“But I don’t think he’s doing it to harm us. I think he’s doing it to help us.” It took a while for the Three Wise Cheeses and the hard cheeses, and the rest of the cheeses for that matter, to work out where the little voice had come from. “He cares. You know? I think he just wants people to appreciate us.” The little Mini-BabyBel rolled steadily into the middle of the gathering.
“Ha! What do you know, little tiny cheese?” sneered the Red Leicester. The large Edam revolved towards the hard cheeses, but lost momentum and fell flat on its side, slightly redder and waxier than before.
“Everyone is entitled to an opinion,” said the Gouda, reasonably. “However, I do think we are going to have to take drastic action, whether or not this human intends to help us. We can’t last much longer in here, and then no one will want to eat us.”
The murmur of horror rattled around the cheeses at that thought.
“Yeeesss,” nodded the Mature Cheddar, “We must get back to our fridges. We must be consumed!”
“So my plan, we’re all in agreement, yeah?” said the Red Leicester, hulking himself over the circle of cheeses.
The Three Wise Cheeses nodded in approval.
The little Babybel felt his waxy coating melt slightly at his colleagues’ misunderstandings. He backed away quietly into the darkness and moisture began to form around his convenient peel back tab. But then a great smell of sweaty sheep engulfed him and a very old looking cheese glared down at him.
“Maybe I can help.”
As the little Babybel and the ancient cheese approached, the Head of Cheese was pacing frantically, muttering to himself in an excited tone. “Ten Ton Cheese. I’ll need lots of cheese. Lots!”
“I need to crush them all together!” Said the Head of Cheese as he abruptly turned towards the interruption.
“Hello,” said the little Babybel, calm and gentle. “My name is Cheesus. May I have a quick word?”
The Head of Cheese melted. Metaphorically of course. His voice was filled with such kindness that the two cheeses felt comfortable in his presence, even with the crazed, occasionally twitchy eyes staring down at them.
“Aw, little cheese. Don’t worry, I’m making a plan to make these stupid humans appreciate you and your kind. I’ll save you, little Babybel Cheesus.”
“Er, well, that’s very nice of you to think of us in that way, but I’m not sure you really understand.”
“Understand? I understand how unappreciative humans are of your wondrousness, your sentient sensations, your lifetime of revolutionary evolution. And I will make them pay! They will be punished! Never again will they get to put your well-developed flavours in their mouths!”
“Well, it’s just that, that’s what we’re there for,” said the little Babybel Cheesus.
The Head of Cheese’s eyeballs searched for comprehension within the dank cave. He’d not considered this point of view, and his legs weakened at the thought. He crouched to the floor, somewhat deflated by the revelation. The little Babybel revolved towards the Head of Cheese’s knees.
“We want to be eaten. It’s why we were made.”
The Head of Cheese’s eyeballs hid themselves under their lids in rapid succession.
“It’s our purpose,” said Cheesus, softly.
The Head of Cheese felt like he’d been hit in the face with a very large block of Double Gloucester. Trust this little perfect Mini-Babybel to speak the wisest of words, the words that were now so obvious they were almost being sarcastic about it.
“So what is my purpose, little Babybel Cheesus?”
“Well, I think it’s probably to make sure everybody eats their cheese.”
“Of course. Of course it is!” shouted the head of cheese excitedly. He sprang from his crouching position and almost hit the roof of the cave. “Yes, yes, I must spread the cheese. I must make people celebrate the cheese by making them eat the cheese! Of course!” As suddenly as he’d sprang, the Head of Cheese stopped.
The smell of sweaty sheep wafted towards the Head of Cheese, followed by a very old looking cheese that left a cheesy track in its wake.
“I lost my olive oil long ago, but I still imbibe my maker, and I can still pass that magic onto whomever I wish, provided, of course, that that whom deserves it.”
The Head of Cheese was almost dribbling with delight. But you’re a Paramo de Guzman****. You’re…you’re…the King of Cheeses!” The Head of Cheese fell to his knees with a sob.
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I’m just carefully crafted. Much skill and love has gone into me, and with all the time I’ve had to mature that love has done nothing but grow. I can help you. Slice me, and you’ll see.”
The Head of Cheese managed to control his shaking body and took from his trouser pocket a multitool especially purchased because of the addition of a small cheese knife within its cluster. He leaned forward towards the ancient cheese and carefully sliced a crumbly piece from its outstretched corner.
“Go on,” urged Cheesus, “Eat him!”
“Yes, eat me. I do believe you are a whom who deserves it.”
The Head of Cheese ate the piece. It still smelled of sweaty sheep. It tasted nutty, with wafts of thyme dancing around a hint of chamomile. It was hard and tangy to begin with but as the Head of Cheese washed it around his mouth it melted into a soft creamy texture, the sweetness enveloping his gums in gooey titillations. He felt the cheese’s magical qualities penetrate his soul. It soaked through his gums, into his head, his brain, his body, right down to his ingrowing toenail. A large grin spread across the large head of the Head of Cheese. It was so clear now, his purpose, his reason for being. And he, only he, could begin this revolution. His senses realigned, as if he’d been moved just a little to the left in this small universe. Time seemed different somehow. The Head of Cheese felt more in control of it. Then there was the fact that he was floating six foot off the ground, as was his little cheese knife. He looked down towards the ancient magical cheese and the little Babybel Cheesus.
“I know what I must do,” he said, and the cave echoed his decision.
As a world bereft of cheese drifted off into a nightmare of sleep, filled with wonderings of how they’d cope without their fermented milk based delights, they didn’t notice a flash much like a shooting star dart across their skies. They didn’t hear the rustlings downstairs as they slept a fitful sleep. Only the spiders noticed the fridge doors’ bright lights fill the world’s kitchens, just for a split second. The same spiders ran for cover at the collective squeals of delight from their reluctant landlord humans the next morning.
Dan and Shirley were on triple time behind their counters that day. Dan didn’t know why BestCo had let him even come into work. He had nothing to do. Nothing but sob onto his very clean yet very empty cheese counter. Shirley had said all the words of comfort she could think of. Now she was stuck. All she could do was watch poor old Dan’s hunched figure from her fish counter (now bereft of dripping blood). She watched, and watched, and watched, until the bright flash nearly knocked her into her finely displayed haddock.
“Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!” said a large man dressed in a spotless white overall. A domed belly stretched at the buttons of the poly-cotton drill with heartfelt passion. His blue hair net sparkled under the florescent lights as he stepped off the biggest (and only) flying cheese counter Shirley had ever seen.
“Dan! Dan, look!”
Dan did look. He squinted a bit. He had to, such was the dazzling display of pure white and shimmering blue hair net. Dan couldn’t believe what his eyes had sent to his brain. He stood, for the first time in around five days, in front of his meagre cheese counter and adjusted his own blue hair net. The only expression he could manage was gawp shaped.
“Dan, the great cheesemonger of BestCo fame!” said the large grinning figure as it approached with a net full of…something. “How are you?”
“Er, I’m…well, I’m…” Dan really wasn’t sure if the lack of cheese based products had had an effect on his brain and he was now experiencing some kind of hallucination. A quite nice hallucination, Dan had to admit. There was definitely a cheese based sensory overload about it.
“Dan, this is for you.” The Head of Cheese…
You’re not supposed to be behind the page. Get out.
“Yes, but you got his name wrong.”
You can’t break the fourth wall like that, it’s not very Cheesemassy is it?
“Hey, I invented Cheesesmass so I can do what I like!”
Oh, very cocky now we’re not in character aren’t we? Bloody characters *sigh*.
“Just do your job as a writer and make his name right, then I’ll leave you alone.”
Okay, I am very sorry, little Cheesus *sarcastic face*. I will correct it imminently.
“Good. I’m going to flounce off back over there now.”
Flounce away. Just get off my side of the bloody page! Right then… – TC/Hx]
FATHER CHEESEMASS held aloft a large netted bag full of all Dan’s favourite cheeses. Dan took in a breath of delightful stink, and a teardrop or three formed in his eye sockets. “Father Cheesemass?”
Dan smiled a smile that put all the other smiles he’d ever smiled to shame. “Happy Cheesemass to you, Father Cheesemass.”
“Ha, ha, ha! And to you too, Dan. To you too!”
As Shirley wiped a tear from her smiling face, she picked up the little Babybel Cheesus and whispered in his ear (she thought anyway). The little baby Cheesus nodded, and they made their way back to Shirley’s fish counter.
“That’s better,” said Shirley, climbing down carefully from her BestCo issue, health and safety approved, three-step ladder. She smiled up at where had once been a wooden cross with a bloody human on it, where now dangled a perfectly round red cheese. Shirley thought she could see a hint of a smile somewhere about the little Babybel Cheesus.
And, you know what? She was right.
Notettes of intrigue:
*Aristeus was a minor Greek god credited with the invention of many useful arts, including that of cheese making, hunting, and olive growing. Also famed for his apicultural apparatus.
**James McIntyre is the only known Poet of Cheese. He owned a store selling furniture, pianos, and coffins. Featured in Very Bad Poetry, edited by Ross and Kathryn Petras (Vintage, 1997).
***Cheesepoo is the white stuff found on lost cheese kept at the back of a fridge who’s lightbulb stopped working in 2009. It is made of bacteria excrement. Usually scrapped off before eating. Usually.
**** Paramo de Guzman cheese is a Spanish cheese made from Iberian bred Churra sheep. Well, okay, their milk. It is aged in caves for a very long time then canned in olive oil. It was much sought after by the previous King of Spain who is said to have not been able to get enough of it. This most ancient of cheese is immortalised in The Telling Room, by Michael Paterniti (Dial Press Trade Paperback, 2014)