My family’s religion was Galaxy’s Best, a reality cooking show. We gathered in the living room every Sunday evening to watch it. We watched in silence, as if hypnotized, never pausing it. This wasn’t family bonding time; it was all about the show. Once the episode was over, we resumed our own activities. Occasionally we discussed it with each other, mainly to argue over who we thought was going to win.
We were not alone in our devotion.
Almost everyone was obsessed with it. All my classmates watched it, as did my teachers. I constantly overheard people talking about it, in stores and on the streets. It dominated the news.
To win Galaxy’s Best was to become a god. Statues were erected in your honor. Wherever you went, admirers and worshippers followed. You’d be recognized everywhere. People genuflected at your feet, offering gifts and discounts, praising your skill.
Not only that, you won half a million dollars and got to work in The Manxion, the best restaurant in the galaxy. Since it was located in space, it was prohibitively expensive; transportation alone could set you back several thousand dollars. Most of us would never get to eat there; we could only dream as we were shown images of the menu items, ranging from the familiar—omelettes, burgers, steak—to things that weren’t meant for human consumption but looked enticing nonetheless.
My first love was the show’s host, Chef Manx.
Manx was an amorphous alien made of pink slime, lard, and buttercream. Sometimes he twisted himself into a human shape, but most of the time, he took the form of a giant blob, constantly twitching and throbbing and dripping. He had no face and was covered in little holes. His voice came out of each individual hole, so when he spoke, it was like a chorus, talking all at once.
I wanted so badly to touch him. I drew pictures of us together, kissing and hugging, surrounded by hearts and phrases like “Iris + Manx” and “together forever.”
My favorite part was the eliminations. At the end of each episode, Manx deemed a contestant undeserving, and then they were locked in a dark room with him. Manx sat on a throne while the contestant cowered on the floor, so small in comparison. He tore into them, targeting not just their cooking skills but everything about them. He knew personal details they had never divulged, and brought them up in his attacks.
During these segments, I turned the volume up as much as I could without my parents getting mad. Even when he was saying such harsh things, his deep voice comforted me.
At last, Manx ate the contestant. This was never shown, but it was clear that was happening. There were crunching and slurping noises, and the eliminated contestants were declared dead.
The “dead“ part didn’t register for us. We didn’t think it was unethical. It was meant to be entertainment, and we were entertained.
In middle school, I befriended a girl whose dad was selected to compete on Galaxy’s Best. Her name was Cassidy, and she was quiet and kept to herself. She used a walking cane since she had a mobility impairment.
The day after her dad was selected, she came to school crying tears of joy. “I can’t believe it,” she said. The hand holding her cane trembled wildly.
For once, she was the center of attention. Everyone crowded around her, asking about her dad and if she thought he was going to win and what they would do with the prize money.
I came to Cassidy’s house every Sunday to watch Galaxy’s Best. She rooted for her dad, but honestly, I only cared about Manx.
When Cassidy left the room, I got so close to the screen I could feel the static against my face, and I would lick it, imagining I was licking Manx.
Once she walked in on me doing this and asked, “What are you doing?”
What I felt was not embarrassment over having been caught doing something odd—I didn’t consider my actions odd—but instead a sense of invasion. I truly believed Manx could feel me and that there was something between us. It didn’t matter that he was an alien beyond human comprehension or ability, and I was a preteen girl who struggled with basic math. I thought we were made for each other and couldn’t handle being intruded upon while in the middle of an act that, to me, was as intimate as sex.
I stopped going to her house after that.
The next week, her dad was eliminated. He messed up big time, serving raw chicken twice in a row. When Manx was castigating him, he dared to stand and speak up.
“Fuck you,” he said.
The camera didn’t cut away. It showed everything: Manx bit into Cassidy’s dad and drank his blood. Arms sprouted from Manx and ripped off peels of flesh. His mouth was one vertical slit, lined with dozens of sharp teeth.
In the privacy of my room, I watched it over and over again. Heat built up between my legs. The first time I masturbated, it was to my friend’s dad being eaten alive. I felt guilty after. We were supposed to enjoy the eliminations, but not like this.
The next day at school, Cassidy was met with hostility.
“How could your dad do that?“ our classmates demanded, as if she were herself responsible.
A boy said, “I’m glad he got eaten, he deserved it.”
Cassidy shrunk. She never defended her dad, only said she would have never expected such behavior from him. She repeated, “I’m sorry,” long after our classmates stopped listening.
“You don’t have to apologize,” I said to her, in what was my first time speaking to her since she saw me licking the TV. As far as I knew, she hadn’t told anyone about it, which I appreciated, but there was something in her expression when she looked at me, as if her entire perception of me had changed to the point she now considered me a different person.
“You enjoyed it,” she spat, eyes narrowed.
I went rigid. She knew.
Cassidy switched to another school. At least, that’s what I assume. She stopped coming, and everyone acted as if she had never been here at all.
In college, I got a boyfriend, Landon. He was nice enough, but everyone was inferior to Manx. He was definitely nowhere near as good at cooking as Manx was. He burned his toast and made runny eggs. Eggs and toast: so simple, and he couldn’t even get that right.
When we had sex, I pretended it was Manx inside me, molding his body into a shape that fit me perfectly and filling me with colorful goo. That was the only way I could cum. Human bodies didn’t appeal to me. There was no flexibility to them.
I had kinks that made Landon uncomfortable. Once, when we were getting down to business, I said, “Insult me,” and he stared at me like I had spoken a foreign language.
“Insult me,” I repeated, thinking back to the verbal lashings Manx gave to the contestants. “Don’t hold back. Destroy my self-esteem.”
Landon frowned. “Iris, I … Do you need to talk to someone?”
I sighed. He could be so annoying. “It’s not like that. Just do it.”
He called me a bitch in a way that was so ingenuine I told him to just forget it.
I also asked him to bite me, which he complained about but still did. He worried my flesh between his teeth, dribbling spit down my arm, and with my other hand, I touched myself.
I told Landon I didn’t want kids, but I thought about bearing Manx’s children: half-human, half-alien. Living proof of our love for each other.
After two years together, he confronted me about the fact that I watched Galaxy’s Best obsessively and ignored him when it was on. “That show is so stupid,” he said.
Just like that, I knew we couldn’t be together anymore. The quickness with which I dumped him made him ask, “Did you ever even like me?” I didn’t answer.
With Landon out of the picture, I dedicated myself to cooking. I went to culinary school and, shortly after my twenty-sixth birthday, opened up a restaurant. It was a higher-end Mexican restaurant for people who wanted to feel fancy when eating tacos. I got rave reviews and enjoyed the praise, but really, I was doing all this in the hopes I would get selected to compete on Galaxy’s Best.
For six years straight, I applied to be a contestant. I knew the chances of getting selected were slim; every chef wanted to be on that show, and they only had sixteen in each season. That didn’t discourage me.
After my seventh try, I got in.
I was informed of my acceptance by email. When I read it, I regressed to my preteen self and squealed. I called my family and friends. “I’m going to see Chef Manx!” I announced as soon as they picked up.
They all wished me luck, but I didn’t want to win. I wanted the exact opposite.
Galaxy’s Best was filmed on a spaceship. I had toured a few other ones before, but this one was huge, with a giant kitchen, a well-stocked walk-in pantry, and bedrooms that belonged in an upscale hotel.
As the ship ascended, we all watched, amazed, as Earth got farther and farther away. We were in space now, somewhere most people would never go.
For the first episode, we prepared a dish that represented us and presented it to Chef Manx.
My heart leaped when I saw him. He was bigger than I’d expected, much taller than even the tallest contestant, who was himself well over six feet. It took all the self-control I had to stay where I was and not run over to him.
The contestant before me—Eliana, who I’d seen before on the internet and in magazines, advertising her Mediterranean restaurant—served lamb chops. Before he tried it, she listed off all her achievements, ranging from winning a middle school baking contest to getting a Michelin star.
When Manx cut into the lamb chop, he made a discovery: it was raw.
Even without a face, his disgust was palpable. It emanated off of him. The rest of us stepped back in anticipation of his outburst.
The plates and silverware and cameras rattled. The tables and cabinets shifted. The floor lurched.
“You’re an award-winning chef?” Manx demanded. His blobby body became hard and spiky.
Eliana nodded meekly.
“And you give me this?” The plate levitated off the counter, then shot through the air, hitting a wall and shattering. “You should be ashamed of yourself. If a restaurant served that, it wouldn’t win any awards. It’d be shut down.”
My face burned. A part of me envied Eliana.
A few minutes later, I was called up. By then, my self-control was gone. I went right up to Manx and inserted my finger into one of his holes. It wasn’t big enough for my finger to fit in at first, but it widened easily, opening up to welcome me. He was cold and slick. I wanted to go deeper, press my fist into him, but someone—a crew member—grabbed me from behind with a tentacle that made my skin sting.
“Don’t touch him,” he hissed.
I held my hand out to Manx. “I love you,” I called, before licking the slime off my fingers. It had a sharp, bitter taste. Normally, I would have gagged, but this was Manx, so I stifled my reaction and instead grinned.
The crew member dragged me backstage.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he asked.
“I’ve been waiting all my life to see Manx,” I said.
“This isn’t a fucking dating show. You have to respect him at all times. If you touch him again, you’re being thrown right into space.”
I went back to the stage, where I tried again, this time keeping my distance and presenting my chilaquiles. He said they were good, but that I should try something more complicated. He didn’t mention what I did or acknowledge my declaration of love, but as I was walking away, he said, “You’re aroused right now.”
Shocked, I looked back at him, but he was already moving on to the next contestant.
Since he had never actually resisted me or voiced displeasure, I took it to mean that he had enjoyed being touched and penetrated. In the downtime before the episode’s main challenge, I fantasized about fingerfucking him, making him moan and quiver with pleasure.
My fantasies were interrupted by another contestant, who said to me, “You’re a freak, aren’t you?” He was trying to flirt, assuming I would be receptive.
I shot him a dirty look and he backed off.
Each season started with relatively safe Earth food before moving on to more daring dishes that contained gemstones, human flesh, and alien meat.
Today, we would be learning how to cook boar. Chef Manx demonstrated, then dismissed us to try cooking it on our own. Just as we started, he made a comment about being hungry—“I haven’t eaten all day”—and it made me throb.
Everyone expected Eliana to lose. Her confidence was gone, evident even in the way she moved through the kitchen and pantry, as if she didn’t trust herself to not fall flat on her face.
I didn’t want her to lose. I was going to be the first one to get eliminated. I was completely committed to failing.
Compared to everyone else’s, my plate was bare. There were three teeny strips of boar with rosemary sprinkled on top and some limp potato chips on the side.
The other judge—Vanise, who resembled a jellyfish; her skin was translucent and her tiny glowing hearts, five in total, were visible inside her head—stared at it. “What is this?”
“Boar,” I replied cheerily.
“Don’t try to be funny,” Manx said.
They both tried it and were unimpressed. The boar was too tough and bland. The potato chips were soggy and uncooked. The rosemary added nothing.
“Possibly the worst dish so far,” Vanise said.
“Is this a joke to you?” Manx levitated the plate again and smashed it on the countertop. The shards went flying. “You told me how badly you wanted to be on this show. So now you’re here, you have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you do this with it? This dish isn’t just bad—it’s lazy. You put no effort into this. It’s insulting.” His holes flared.
I felt his anger like a physical force, constricting around me, making it difficult to breathe. I became lightheaded and stumbled back to my station. As I passed by Eliana, I noticed she was smirking.
I got a thrill in my chest when Manx said I was being eliminated. I was supposed to look sad, even horrified, but inside, I was overjoyed.
“I had some faith in you,” Manx said, “but I can see now you don’t deserve to be here.”
I practically skipped on my way to the elimination room. We were going to be alone.
The room itself was empty except for Manx’s throne, ceiling lamps that provided dim lighting, and the cameras. There were no windows, no decorations, just cold gray walls. The smell of blood lingered in the air.
Manx sat on his throne while I knelt before him.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a contestant as pathetic as you, so utterly deluded.”
The walls and floor swayed.
“What do you know about love? Have you ever put any effort into your relationships? Or has your whole life just revolved around me?”
I pressed my thighs together. My heart beat madly inside my chest.
“You think the feeling is mutual. You think I love you back.”
Manx rippled like water. Spikes erupted from his body.
“Why would I ever love you?” He screamed it, loudly enough that it caused a quake. The tremor knocked me into the air, then I was swept up in a hot gust that blew me backwards. “What do you have to offer anyone?”
Shakily, I sat up, opened my mouth to say something: You don’t have to do this. Don’t lie for the cameras. My family’s watching. They need to know the truth. Before I could, Manx levitated me, brought me closer until I was dangling above him.
His spikes turned into arms that gripped me roughly, but I took it as a lover’s caress. How sweet.
His nails scraped off my skin, drawing blood.
Tears welled in my eyes. “Yes,” I whispered.
Manx’s mouth was a bottomless black cavern. It was where I belonged. I strained towards him, desperate to be inside him.
My dream was coming true.
In my last moments, I felt pure ecstasy. This was a level of pleasure I had never before experienced, not even during my strongest orgasms.
I was being ripped apart, and I was the happiest I had ever been.
Manx loved me. I loved him. Nothing could separate us now.