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K is for Kombucha

I’m awake in my bed, staring at a replica of the Excalibur sword mounted over my dresser. This replica was the only thing that my father gave me on my eighteenth birthday, and the next day I made a framed mount for it out of wood. I stretched black velvet over a durable backer board, strong enough to support the galvanized steel and heavy brass handle. The frame around it is made out of a beautiful walnut wood that I put so much shellac on that it looks like it was dipped in liquid glass. When I was finished, the sword gleamed inside the frame with as much pride as I had building it.
I was your typical creative introvert as a kid, a hobbyist, always looking for new ways to entertain myself. I suppose writing was my first love, followed by an amateur obsession with electrical crafts. Later, I relished in my father’s basement, learning his woodworking craft.
I was twelve or so when I taught myself how to play guitar, which I’d play for hours on end throughout my teens and into my twenties. When I was 15 I took over that woodworking space, papered the walls with Playboy centerfolds and guitar legend posters while my guitar and amplifier combo took place of the drill press. Once, when I was 16, I made a guitar amplifier out of a speaker from an old telephone receiver and a discarded cigarette pack. It was only one watt but still, I thought it was a cool novelty.
I was obsessed with music and bending my imagination through a variety of techniques woven through a colorful array of effects equipment. Some of it ended up being pretty complicated for a kid without any actual education, aside from crash courses in Guitar World magazines and emulating rock n’ roll innovators like Jimi Hendrix and Ween. So much mishandled and uneducated guitar playing that I gave myself a pretty severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome by the time I was 18.
My parents are two baby boomers almost identical in perfect contrast. They would, and still do, constantly argue and then agree in these sort of hypnotic waves. Like being side barred on a 15-year-long sonic boat ride, I’d find myself wondering, are they bipolar or is this just what marriage does? Although they had their quirks, they also had an unwavering kindness, albeit a rigid belief in a strong work ethic. I’m pretty sure that’s the common denominator that kept them together all these years.
When I was 17, I was hired into my first modest job at a small factory that I worked before and after school. Due to this show of responsibility, I was given the guesthouse to live in for the simple task of maintaining a high academic average and 75 dollars a month. It was across the yard and had one-bedroom, running water, full bath, living room. It really wasn’t bad at all and, aside from the Sunday dinners my parents made me attend, I felt all-around independent. I bought my groceries. I had heat, TV, my guitar; an absolute paradise for a young man.
Still, their kindness would also be a form of enabling because, let's face it, if I get evicted out of a guest house, I’m going back to a bedroom. I’m not losing anything. This new independence gave me free rein over life, especially after I graduated high school.
I was planning on going to college but why rush, you know? After all, I just graduated. It’s not like I dropped out and did nothing. I wasn’t lazy. I was playing the guitar for hours, headstrong and eager to hone my craft with relentless tenacity. Music had been my state of Zen since I was 8 years old, and by the time I was 20, I became lost in the world of playing gigs. One main perk and killer of being a performer are the free drinks and parting, a lot of partying, drugs offered by everyone, sex. Well, a lot of sex seemed to be going on around me, anyway. I teetered a little more toward experimental drug use with those substances that, lift the veil of reality, like LSD. And yeah, all of that naturally just led to,
“living on the road, man!” One morning while I was freewheeling and living the high life on public transportation, I woke up on a greyhound at around five in the morning to the shouting of a short, bald, and pissed off bus driver who looked like a giant garbanzo bean that just escaped from an anger management session.
“I ain’t driving a motel for vagabonds, fuck face!” I moved the hard guitar case from between my legs, stood up with needles stabbing at me from my thighs to my toes, and hobbled off the bus. Directly across the street from the bus stop, I saw a small crowd of people setting up a marketplace. I wondered if this could be an open opportunity. I staggered across the road scanning the layout for any coffee area. I not only desperately needed caffeine in my veins, but I knew that was generally where the markets head organizers were.
A hardened elderly woman with long white hair pulled back in a ponytail wearing a green cardigan sweater was behind a stack of paper cups next to a full coffee pot. She poured me a tall cup of hot black coffee. I asked her if there’s any possibility of me playing for these people without a busking license. She pointed me to a large man and told me his name is Thaddeus, and to check with him.
“Excuse me, Thaddeus?” A tall, heavy-set man with a bald scalp and a wild silver beard turned to face me with two large eyes magnified by thick frames. Although his presence was warm, his demeanor was stern and rooted in this foreign place that suddenly gave my distance from home an intimidating perspective. Thaddeus answered with a light mid-western accent.
“Yes. Who are you? What can I do for ya?”
“Hi, my name is Colin. Can I get your permission to play my guitar here? I can play all styles and --
-- You’re in Utah, boy. Can you play western jazz or country?”
“Ah, yes sir. You got it.”
Thaddeus set me up in the middle of the farmer’s market and asked me to play for him. I took out my acoustic and played ‘Jam Man’ by Chet Atkins. Thaddeus softened his eyebrows from sincere to generally impressed. He gave an approving chuckle and told me to play on.
Thaddeus graced me with a two-hour time slot. I played my coffee bar setlist that I played regularly in New York. By a quarter after nine all the tendons in my hand would start to burn while at the same time, my fingers would grow icy cold. That initial feeling would be followed by a painful tingling sensation and then numbness. Between each song, I had to shake blood into my fingers and roll my wrists.
I continued against intensifying pain and made it through my entire set while gathering a substantial heap of tips in my guitar case. I took a large drink of water from a bottle and thanked the patrons for the small round of applause earned by my closing song, “Sweet and Lowdown.” I was counting and arranging my patronage when Thaddeus approached me.
“You sounded terrific, kid. It looks like ya made out nicely too.”
“Yeah, thank you. It was enjoyable.” I responded with a twinge of discomfort. Thaddeus then stepped in closer to me and lowered his voice an octave.
“Look, kid. I have to admit you saved our asses today. Typically we have entertainment but today our scheduled performer canceled on us. I thought we were screwed, but with luck be drawn, you showed up and did a great job. Thanks again. Any chance you can do this again next week?” Before I could reply he added,
“Are you alright? You seem to be hurting.”
“Yeah, I am. Carpal tunnel syndrome. My fingers are dead right now.” Thaddeus had an air of genuine understanding like a seasoned physician.
“Ah, yes. When you are finished counting your money, meet me over at my office over there.”
The marketplace deflated of customers while every vendor was busy loading their trucks and trailers like a band of produce and home good gypsies on the run. I did as the boss said, and upon my arrival at the coffee tent, Thaddeus was beside his wife, packing up their area into boxes. Thaddeus made eye contact with me as I was approaching when he spoke to his wife.
“Joan, can you grab me two bottles of tea from the truck, dear?” “Colin, this is my wife, Joan.” Joan gave me a pleasant smile and nodded kindly before she retrieved her husband's request. While Joan was on her given quest, Thaddeus repeated his question.
“So, Colin. Ya think ya can make it out again next week?”
“I’m sorry to say that I won't be. I’m only passing through and trying to make my way back home to New York. I’ve been gone for months and frankly, I’m more than a little homesick.” Thaddeus looked slightly put out and grunted a response.
“Ah, all the great ones are always leaving town.” Joan returned with two bottles of murky liquid. She handed them to me and Thaddeus continued.
“Alright, drink one now, drink the other one later on. It’s not an instant cure mind you, but it might alleviate that hand.”
“What’s this?”
“Kombucha. It’s an age-old medicinal tea. Been known to help with many conditions, including what’s hurting ya.”
“Is there pot in this?” I asked, hopefully. Thaddeus answered bluntly followed by a sigh.
“Tss, No.”
The bottle snapped open with a hard effervesce. It was harshly carbonated and tasted boldly like blueberry tea with a fermented tang. Although it had a medicinal zing, it wasn’t bad. My suspicion of this unmarked tea squandering any pain that I was in, stood corrected within fifteen minutes when all the pain subsided. Not the typical lingering, almost gone- It was just gone. I couldn’t believe it.
I busied myself helping Thaddeus and his Joan pack their belongings, mostly because I had absolutely no idea where to go after this is over. I was in Utah with a guitar case and a bottle of medicinal tea which may or may not even be legal and theoretically I was homeless. I’ve heard about what some states do to vagabonds and I wasn’t at all familiar with state laws. My concern was interrupted when Thaddeus picked up the last box filled with coffee supplies that I had finished packing.
“So, ya got nowhere to go, huh, kid?”
“Well, not really. Train station I guess.”
“How’s your hand feeling?”
“Like new, I can’t believe it. Seriously, thank you. This stuff is amazing.”
“Well, the nearest train station is about twenty miles away from here, and I can’t in good mind just leave a kid out here. Tell ya what. How about you come home with us, I’ll show you how to make that tea then drive you to the station?”
“What? I can’t accept that, I don’t want to obligate you to drive me any--”
“--Obligate? Nonsense. You’re music today made me triple what I would have made without it. People can buy peaches and apple pie anywhere, they came because there was a guitarist front and center. Besides, you played through pain. That deserves a reward in my book.”
He made a pretty strong point and without this, I would likely be dicking around in a lobby somewhere before sleeping on another bus. So, I took the man’s offer.
“Sure, Thanks a million.”
We arrived at their house, and Thaddeus led me directly into his plaid wallpapered kitchen and told me to have a seat. I sat on a wooden chair for a moment before he set a pad of paper and a pen in front of me.
“You’re gonna wanna take some notes.”
After we settled in, the medicine man started by giving me some history about Kombucha and how the word itself is traced back to ancient Sumeria, meaning “The Elixir of Life.” This led to an explanation about setting the right mood to create a loving brew. Thaddeus had a philosophy that because it was a living, breathing, eating, and reproducing organism that we’re birthing, the vibrational frequencies that fill the birthing space is a major factor. I recall Thaddeus saying,
“Happy surroundings promote peace and health, hostile surroundings promote over brewing and ruining your tea.”
I was then educated about the vague extraterrestrial roots this drink has. See, to create Kombucha, an entirely produced Kombucha must be added to the mixture. Much like the chicken and the egg enigma, how did the first complete product ever come to be? This answer is still unknown today. Even more outstanding, this tonic dates back to the very start of the Mongol Empire when Genghis Khan allegedly fueled his army with this tea recipe.
I was given step by step instructions and walked through the process. While the water was boiling and reaching the perfect brewing temperature, Thaddeus opened up a wooden pantry that was devoted to this stuff. When the pantry door opened, it looked almost clinical with shelves lined with glass jars and stainless steel cylinders. The top row was of large gallon jars full of bagged teas, sugars, some empty, some whole. The shelf underneath it held jars full of liquids, dried fruit, and powders. Stainless steel cylinders were full of loose teas labeled with full names like oolong white tea, Jasmine Pearls, and Darjeeling. Each jar was labeled with either one or two letters, CS for Cane Sugar, DP for Dried Peaches, BT for black tea, and so on.
He grabbed the third jar in, labeled with the letter M, and set it on the table. I looked at what was inside of it. A viscous stack of quarter-inch slabs, flesh white and lined with brown strands swimming in some sort of dark-colored brine. Thaddeus explained this jar as his “SCOBY motel.” Hence, the letter M.
SCOBY is an acronym meaning Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. This mushroom type colony is the main additive for turning sweet tea into Kombucha.
The last jar revealed was covered with a piece of stained cloth secured with a rubber band, labeled with the letter K. He set it patiently on his kitchen table.
“K is for Kombucha," Thaddeus announced as he moved to the sink to rinse his hands. He returned and removed the cloth revealing one of the same slimy blobs that were in the “Motel” jar. Thaddeus stuck the tips of his large fingers inside the jar and gingerly lifted the jelly disk out and set it in the “motel” jar on top of the stack of the same. At first sight, I was slightly grossed out by it.
“What is that?”
“The SCOBY... With every batch, a new one grows on top of the one of it. These babies grow fast, and with enough heat, they can grow really thick as well.”
From there he “harvested” the Kombucha by spooning the liquid out into bottles and garnished each one with pressed lemon juice and ginger root.
Thaddeus overall was a humbled, kind, and generous man. Not only he took time to show me, a total stranger this recipe and system out of pure charity. The man also gave me six bottles of his finished product, along with a SCOBY in its exclusive heat regulating envelope. He also sent me off with a bag of sugar, a tin canister of tea and a jar — the whole set up. I thanked him several times, to which he replied.
“It’s no trouble at all, young traveler. I was a traveler much like you once, and one thing the roads taught me is that there just ain’t enough kindness.” And he was right. Up until I met him I almost lost all faith in any kindness left in humanity.
Two weeks later and I was back at my parents’ guest house in New York, making my first successful batch of Kombucha. With what Thaddeus gave me and the extensive note taking during my lesson, I followed the instructions precisely.
I waited the seven days for the brew in my now temperature controlled closet. It was resting on a heating pad that I had set on medium. Finally, the batch was complete.
The finished product was a warm amber liquid that looked like a craft ale, the SCOBY on top of it doubled in thickness with another vibrant, healthy bone white generation above it. The gelatinous mass was slimy, wet, but not squishy at all. It was robust and durable. The best way to describe it is to say that the center seemed to be made of cartilage. That’s how dense it was. I took both generations and let them rest in their jar, lightly submerged a full spoon of the finished product, “The SCOBY motel.” Which yes, I labeled with a single letter, ‘M.’
I proceeded to spoon the contents of the jar into glass bottles that I had saved for a few weeks and added Lemon juice to each one. After another three days, I snapped open a container with a satisfying hiss of natural carbonation. The first batch was good, far beyond my expectations. After having such satisfactory results, my pride had developed into a full-blown passion for brewing Kombucha. After a few months, I felt like a brewmaster.
It was right around this time when I started working alongside my dad’s friend, Carl, the master carpenter. Starting I did grunt work, moving wheelbarrows full of trash, hauling lumber, holding large beams in place that were vibrating while sawed, everything that would typically antagonize the nerves in my wrists, but zero pain resulted from it. And I played my guitar at a little tavern in town once in a while on top of it. My days of waking up in excruciating agony were behind me. All I did was drink two bottles of my homemade tonic daily.
Believe it or not, being a newbie in the carpentry field by day, and an exotic mushroom tea brewer by night doesn’t make you a lady magnet. I believe it to be quite the contrary in fact. In all honesty, I have never been a “ladies man” nor have I ever pretended to be. Far from a “player,” hell, I wasn’t even scouted for a team. My adolescence was a lonely waiting ground for the day when it finally happens. My late teens were more of the same. I know that it’s a lack of self-confidence. I’m not an idiot. Simply put, I didn’t see myself as, well... Acceptable.
This seemingly unbeatable self-image led to time being drug-addled and polluted with alcohol-induced grogginess. I’d think “Well, I play guitar! And by no means was I amateur! I even have a small fan base. How wasn’t there a rushing tide of women engulfing me at all times?” I asked women out. I talked to them, I, unlike every other asshole playboy out there, I actually took the time to listen to what women have to say.
It’s true. Women only fall for assholes and dickheads that don’t treat them right, while a small family of so-called rejects like myself have permanent residence in the all-too-well-known, friend zone. I’ve had a few, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a virgin. A few, but not many. I prefer to think of my low number as a result of being a gentleman.
Over time, between sad mismatches on dating sites and handling these fleshy, warm, wet Kombucha mushrooms, a rather promiscuous thought entered my mind. We all have a perverse side that we unleash once in a while, right? Sex toys, escorts, hell, Ashley Madison for Christ’s sake. A whole business based on man's filth and or boredom that their very own wives can’t or won’t satisfy. What I was thinking wasn’t hurting anyone. It didn’t even cost me anything.
It was on an evening in mid- June, after another date that I set up with a woman that ended with a new low. The conversation was less than perfect as it was but I held hope. She was very attractive, and I did have a few good jokes that killed any awkward pauses. Still, our chemistry wasn’t mixing.
Whatever chance I did have with this woman that was already easily five digits out of my league came to a crashing halt when the check arrived. I handed the waitress my debit card, only for her to return moments later and tell me that it was declined. I made up some bullshit about having cashed a check recently and a waiting period- my date didn’t buy it.
She let out an exhausted sigh of disappointment and covered the bill followed with, “Well, it’s been fun, we should do this again.” Proceeding to run out of the restaurant without any further conversation. I hung around the bar by myself for a little while, with the twenty-five dollars and fourteen cents I did have, then decidedly thought, fuck it. I’ll just solo it out again.
I was driving home with a slight buzz that only intensified the pangs of loneliness gnawing at my ego. Seven months since I’ve last been with a woman, and the last one was in the midst of a drunken stupor, hardly remembered. The flood gate of self-pity was open when a neon sign called my attention. Recessed further away than all the other storefronts like a dealer reading a crowd during happy hour.
Fuck it, I thought again, why that’s just tonight's mantra now isn’t it? I slowed down, pulled a quick U-turn into the adult film store and came out with not only a movie but a self-loathing realization that I can’t even afford an adult toy. I sat in my car in the parking lot and smoked the life out of a beat roach that had been in my ashtray for a day while flipping through the cheap truck stop smut magazine that came with a free DVD.
I laughed at myself that this low budget, poorly photographed pictorial took the last of my money. Then my thought from before ran over my mind igniting my excitement, similar to a testosterone-fueled inmate that just got out on parole. I made a goal to go home, and out of my jar of SCOBY make the most unbelievable fuck toy ever.
After a few trials, I finally decided to designate a jar for this. Wide-mouthed and slightly larger than my length, wide enough for the colony lined walls to home my girth comfortably. I then popped in my new feature presentation. Between the movie and this rather gross looking jar that looked like a full glass of flabby chicken skins, I just- went to town.
The slurping and sloshing that came from the jar while I drove into it mimicked the oral performance on the DVD almost flawlessly. The orgasm that I gave myself was indeed, epic. I even rewarded myself with an old cigarette that I had in my nightstands drawer. I capped up my new prize possession, cleaned up and fell into a great night’s rest.
The next day at work was hectic. I was learning how to build cabinets. I must have sanded wood for a solid four hours and lifted 200 pounds of finished lumber overhead to fasten them to the kitchen walls, eight times. After a nine-hour long day, my body motioned like a lifeless doll hanging from strings handled by a drunk puppeteer. All I wanted was a beer, and maybe another night with my... CLEARS THROAT Misses, dare I say? That’s precisely what I did. I ran to the store on my way home and got a six-pack of IPA and a fresh pack of cigarettes, drove home and eagerly settled in.
This time, I found a feature on the DVD’s setup bar that allowed for a ‘point of view’ camera angle on my favorite porn star, Lexus. My God... Why bother with a real woman? I was in my glory. This homemade toy is so realistic, so gratifying that I began to grow a type of romantic connection with the SCOBY itself. Was my conscience engulfed in lust and guilt?
In a way, I felt like I was abusing these organisms. Thaddeus spoke of SCOBY as if it was sentient, with all the talk of them being daughters that grew from mothers, and the breathing and eating and reproducing. I can’t deny that there was a lingering thought - a smog of guilt, an ill reflection of myself as being some sick, sex-deprived deviant. And afterward, after the jar dropped to the floor with its insides mangled and used, and that cigarette was lit; I admit that I felt a smoldering pang of sadness. Still, this indulgence became a regular unwinding ritual that became the trophy line at the end of my days.
I found myself thinking about the starlet, and her perfect porcelain complexion contrasted with her dark flowing hair, cascading over her gentle curves that were flawlessly punctuated by her wonderfully feminine movements. That arch in her back opposite her tender, supple breasts mixed with the pale substance of my jar- I began mentally infusing the two into one exhilarating fascination that was solely mine. The two combined were like a real NSA relationship and more specifically, with the girl of my dreams.
I’d excuse myself into the porta-john on the work site after lunch, and fantasize about Lexus, and the last position she was in as we climaxed together. Albeit relieved, I’d come out only partially satisfied, nothing compared to what I intended on doing later that night. It was after about a month when I thought that I should freshen up my lady and change out the content. It was on a Saturday evening after a nicely earned pizza paired with a cozy classic cult movie I’ve seen a hundred times. I retrieved my jar, and I noticed that the worn insides had darkened to a brownish gray color as it was smashed against the walls of the vessel.
Upon opening, a new smell poured out of it — a meaty olfactory, like a raw steak that had been left out to ripen. I peeled the visceral, thin, tacky sheets aside and noticed a slight pulse movement in the bottom of the jar. It was unexpected, frightening really, I nearly dropped my beloved “vajarnia.” (LAUGHS) Well, judge all you want, it made me laugh.
I peeled a little more back, revealing a small straw-like valve that was flapping as if it was breathing. I rushed the jar beneath the lamp on my desk and moved more of the folds over with a pair of tweezers that I had in my pen holder. It looked like a tiny, pale pair of lungs and a heart starting to grow. I couldn’t help but yell with excitement.
“Lexi, Were pregnant!”
I couldn’t wrap my perverse, porn-sickened brain around what had happened here. I brought the jar back into the closet, added a small amount of sweet tea over it to keep it from drying, covered it with cheesecloth so it could breathe, and placed it onto the heating pad, my private little incubator. Then I spent the next hour building a new prosthetic for that night’s celebration with Lexus.
The following work day was preoccupied with my mind slipping into the anticipations of being responsible for a new life. I kept getting distracted with thoughts like,
“What will become of this? Will it survive? If it does survive, what the hell am I going to tell my parents? It’s not a big deal, mom. I’ve just been ejaculating inside this homemade sex toy I made out of mushrooms and I didn't consider this possible, by the way, can I bum money for diapers? Is this even moral? Has this been done before?”
I, of course, Googled it. Nope. No Kombucha babies. But you would be amazed how many guys have injected their semen inside chicken, ostrich and lizard eggs to make some pretty grotesque embryo’s, albeit with no survivors. That relieved and worried me.
I arrived home from work around 5:30 that night. I made a simple soup and sandwich dinner, sided with a pickle and half a bag of chips. My bottled Kombucha in the cabinet had been fermenting for three days. I pulled one out, cracked it open with a nice LOUD FIZZ. It’s ready for refrigeration. I grabbed the first two of the bottles when my eyes were widened by the ‘buch baby’s’ progress.
“What the fuh-” fell out of my mouth, astounded by the sight of it. Pressed against the glass, veins were now forming, though white and semi-translucent. One sizeable blue vessel was starting to grow in the middle of it. Like a swollen organ ready to explode out of the jar, pulsating and gyrating with verve. For reasons beyond myself, I quickly assumed that it needed nutrients. I poured a small amount of Kombucha into it, with the logic of it still being a SCOBY. Immediately after, almost on contact, the liquid was absorbed, and the pulsating calmed to the rate of a normal heartbeat. I didn’t know whether to be happy or terrified.
I sat down with the jar and studied it through the glass. I tapped on the container, and it moved, after a while of playing with it I realized that it was responsive. I set it back in the cabinet undecided on whether or not I should discard this thing, call a team of scientists or what. My eyes began to burn with the dry sting of fatigue. I checked the clock to see that it was already quarter to midnight. I stashed the jar back in the closet, added a bit more tea to it and locked it away before I took a shower and then retired to bed.
I was jolted awake by a LOUD CRASH of glass followed by a heavy wooded THUD, bolting me upright in my bed. My mind was a spinning traffic jam of worry and confusion while several more thudding BANGS vibrated the floor beneath me. I glanced at my alarm clock reading 3:35 in glowing blue. Instinctively, I sat still, breathless and tuning my attention on movement while I considered my options for protection.
I briskly moved from my bed and retrieved the Excalibur replica, careful not to make a sound. Just as I removed the ties securing the sword to the open frame, I heard another BANG followed by an inhuman wheezy, high pitch squeal.
I crept towards the door with the weapon, crouched like a knight approaching a warrior with apprehension. I peered out of the crack between the wall and the door. Within the darkness of the living room, I could see the silhouette of the Kombucha cabinet door was opened, then the lamp on top of the small table next to the sofa suddenly wobbled and CRASHED to the floor.
I gathered all my courage and came bursting out of my room, guarding myself with the sword. I halted just before the end of the sofa and surveyed the room. I flicked a nearby light switch on. The instant the room was lit, a hideous, guttural scream rang off the walls. I looked at the open cabinet and noticed that it was empty, save for the' Motel jar, broken glass and liquid covering the wooden floor below. The only thing missing on the floor was the “buch baby.” I slowly neared myself towards the front of the sofa shaking with adrenaline.
At first, I saw nothing, then the rounded edge of the jar behind the leg of the coffee table drew my attention. I moved the table forward with the tip of the sword's blade. What I uncovered was curled up like a small dog-sized, tanned, pinkish slug. Three feet long would be my guess, with its head buried into its stomach and the jar stuck around the knobby protrusions that would be the knees. I could make out a slender shoulder and a weak bony arm wrapped around its head. The back and shoulders were expanding and contracting rapidly.
Faintness was teetering on the edge of my mind for a timeless moment. The next thought that blasted forward was how did this thing grow this large? I inched over the slimy creature and poked it with the edge of the Excalibur. It pulled its head out and screamed, looking directly at me. Its face was a grotesque, skeletal version of my own. The creatures’ eyes were large and bulging out of its sockets but seemed to be covered with a thin curtain of translucent skin. Flapping, incomplete nostrils were lining the edge of an otherwise skeletal nose. The jar tightly enclosing its legs, flailing around, leaving dents in the wooden floor with every forceful landing.
Shallow, deep grunts were made by the creature’s exertion of straightening itself and extending both of its arms to brace its upper body. Its long webbed fingers sprawled out beneath it. While stretching out its neck, its nostrils flared and contracted with every small congested inhale. Long strands of mucus and brown threads of yeast dripping from its head like liquid hair, into a thick puddle that pooled beneath it. The Creature took lazy, heavy slaps on the floor while it slowly crawled near the broken bottles at the base of the cabinet. With one long rattled inhale, it smelled the spilled Kombucha and moved excitedly to the puddle while maintaining attention on me.
A long, fat, gray tongue webbed with blue veins slithered out of its mouth and started licking up the mess with starved eagerness. I could feel my eyelids stretching with shock and sheer disbelief of what I was watching. As it slurped and drank with hard swallows, its muscles were visibly growing. This thing must have grown another foot and a half right before my very eyes within a couple of minutes.
I stood planted in awe and dizzy with shock. The jar around its knees then shattered as two milky wet tendrils about two feet in length kicked wildly off the ends of the bulbous knees. It cleaned the floor of Kombucha along with a fair amount of glass shards, then turned its dripping skull face toward me with a rictus grin.
A growl escalated into another gurgled scream as it crawled quickly towards me, followed by a rapid succession of wet slaps on the floor. It began gnashing its thick meaty lipless mouth full of teeth at me. Tubular veins emerged from its neck and across its head while it stomped in a graceless prowl. Its gross little tendril legs whipped against the floor, throwing its gooey discharge like sparse thick raindrops across my face. Out of pure instinct, I swung the sword and hit the growing beast in the neck, but the blade reflected off with a wet slap as if I struck a tree trunk made of rubber.
It growled and hissed while it made its approach more persistent. Quickly being backed into a corner, I continued to defend myself. It lurched forward and filled out with even more strength before me, almost twice the size as it was from when I first found the small monster. My back hit the wall, and the creature poised itself like a dog staking its territory.
A horrid scream, louder than before was sounded as it took a stance to lunge for a full out attack. I swiftly kicked the creature under its jaw, which backed it off just enough to allow myself room to swing the sword overhead and down across the anomalies bony cranium with all my force. With a small pop under a thick wet splat, the creature collapsed and fell silent. Only its white tendrils quivered for a few moments before it was utterly still.
I took a deep breath of relief and let the sword drop to the floor. I then grabbed a garbage bag from the kitchen and wrapped the beast up with the newer vajarnia as well, and buried them both in the wooded thicket that lined the backyard. I put the shovel back in the shed and cleaned up all the broken glass and residue the creature left. I scrubbed the floor with every cleaning agent I could find but still, some of the odor remained in the wood. I Gathered the three bottles that didn’t break and set them with the original “M” jar in the closet.
A few months later at my favorite coffee shop that I frequent on my work breaks, I finally met a real girl. The Barista, Emily accepted my invitation to dinner, and afterward, she hung around to talk. No running out! Another date was set, and eventually, we fell for each other. After six months, we moved uptown into an apartment together. Emily and I were moved in for a little over a month when I received a text from my mother, inviting us to their house for one of her Sunday dinners.
The usual plates of spaghetti and meatballs were filled. The center of the table invaded by a loaf of Italian bread drizzled with heated olive oil and powdered with parsley, pepper, and oregano. We finished our meals and were enjoying a glass of wine when my mother told us about my father being startled out of bed for the past four nights.
We looked at my father and asked him why mom was telling us this. My father took a drink of his wine then told us.
“Oh, it’s nothing just some animal, I’m sure. But it is strange. I woke up around three in the morning to a, oh, I don’t know, it sounded like single high pitched scream or something. The other night after being woke up, I filled a glass of water and took a drink. As I looked out of the kitchen window, I could swear I saw something that looked like it had broken hind legs, sniffing the door of the guest house.”
submitted by Mullane35 to nosleep

7

KCON LA 2018 Survival Guide

Hello again, kpop. It's 6AM in LA. Today is KCON. I've been awake for far too long already, but as a native Angeleno, I figured y'all might want a low down of whats good to do in and around LA near KCON while you are here, in case you run out of things to do at the convention. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or message me, and I'll try my best to respond. I'll be working at the convention (can't say where though) throughout the next 3 days, but I'll try to be prompt with responses. It's mostly going to be a repost of my 2017 Survival guide, with edits to reflect changes in the food scene in the past year or so (LA dining scene can shift rather rapidly), as well as reflecting changes in my personal tastes.

KCON LA Survival Guide

Since you will likely be staying near the Staples Center (unless you live close enough to make the drive daily), you’ll probably need to eat, and might want to explore the city a bit as well (especially Koreatown).
WARNING. IT IS HOT. AS. HELL. BRING WATER. LOTS OF IT. LA HAS BEEN VERY HOT THIS SUMMER, AND I DO NOT WANT ANY OF YOU GUYS DROPPING CAUSE OF HEAT EXHAUSTION, AND BEING UNABLE TO ATTEND THE CONCERT TO SEE YOUR FAVES. STAY HYDRATED!!!
The Public Transportation - LA has two main forms of public transit: The Metro Rail and the Metro Bus. The Metro Rail system has a stop that's a 5 minute walk from the convention center / Staples center where KCON is being held. Easy to use, relatively cheap ($1.75 one-way, transfers included, no distance limit. $7.50 day pass, unlimited uses in one day). It runs until midnight normally, and until 2AM on fridays and saturdays. Otherwise, driving your own car / a rental car is the way to go, or taking UbeLyft everywhere. I wouldn't recommend taking the bus, as I find it much more confusing and annoying, but if you're used to taking it in the city you're from, then more power to you.

To Eat:

Walking Distance:
  • KCON LA has, in past years, arranged to have food trucks and a few stands outside, near the staples center at Chick Hearn Court, where you can buy food. This is by far the easiest/closest option, and is definitely your best bet if you want to get back to the convention ASAP.
  • Original Pantry Cafe - Might get some flak here from other LA natives, but Pantry cafe is a classic. Serves pretty standard American diner food, but it's an LA icon, and it's right across the street from the LA Live / Staples center complex. roughly a 5-10 minute walk from the convention center.
  • Broken Spanish ($$) - Upscale modern Mexican restaurant by Ray Garcia. Really good, but it comes with a price to match. Expect to pay at the very minimum, $25-30 after tax & tip per person, would not be surprised if it came out to $50+. You can read a review by LA Times here Dinner only!
  • Faith & Flower ($$) - Upscale restaurant serving "California French" cuisine. Essentially, modern, international food prepared using primarily french cooking styles and local California ingredients. Similarly priced to Broken Spanish. LA Times review here Short Metro Ride / Driving Distance KCON LA has the fortune to be held right next to downtown, and also very close to the Expo rail line, allowing a lot of people, even those without cars, to reach quite a few places easily. Uber and Lyft are also good options here.
  • Grand Central Market - Big food hall in downtown, just a few metro rail stops away. Parking is $2-3 dollars for the first 90 minutes, but ramps up quickly afterwards. Several great places here, popular options include Eggslut, Belcampo, Villa Moreliana, Sari Sari Store, Prawn and Wexlers Deli. Honestly, everything here is quite good, and it's pretty hard to go wrong, but those just listed are my personal favorites. They are New American, Burgers, Pork Tacos, Filipino, American Seafood, and Jewish food respectively. McConnells is also a good look if you want ice cream.
  • Chichen Itza / Holbox - Technically two separate restaurants, but in the same food court, and run by the same chef. Yucatecan Mexican food by Gilberto Centina Jr. in the USC area a bit south of the convention center. It's 2-3 metro rail stops away, so also very accessible. If you can afford it ($15-25/person), and have the time, its probably one of my highest recommendations for a restaurant in that area of LA, especially Holbox. Absolutely amazing food. Review by LA Times for Holbox Here
  • Mikkeller DTLA - Danish beer bar / restaurant / coffee house. If you want to get a beer, come here. It's the closest to Staples, and has an insane selection (50+ taps), and everything here is pretty solid. A mix of both European and local brews, and the food is decent. Recommend the burger if you're hungry, one of the flatbreads or the pomme frites if you're not.
  • Other Options - LA also has other great restaurants nearby, but they are too many to write in-depth about. A quick list: Birdies (semi-walking distance), Baco Mercat, Spring, PYT, Ledlow, Drago Centro, The Mighty, Nickel Diner Sonoratown, Little Sister, Perch. Be sure to check prices before going, costs of dining can very quickly skyrocket in downtown LA if you aren't careful!

Koreatown

The metro rail also runs to Koreatown via the Purple line (and the red line, for a single stop). However, this can be fairly limiting in where you go, as Koreatown is very large. Taking a Uber or Lyft is recommended if you need to walk more than a few blocks, especially at night. Driving is also viable, valet parking is almost universally $2 here. Easily the best place to get Korean food in the United States, and arguably one of the best outside of Korea itself. Make sure you have cash handy, some restaurants don't take card!
IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT KOREAN RESTAURANTS: A lot of the workers here are immigrant workers, often trying to make a living and raise children in LA. However, service standards and expectations in Asia are very different than in the U.S. Most Korean patrons simply want their order and the check, and that is their only interaction with the wait staff. You will almost never find waiters and waitresses asking if you want more water or another drink or how your day was. You will be left alone. If you want anything, flag down a waiter or waitress, or many restaurants have call buttons conveniently placed on the table that will send a signal to the front of house, and they will send wait staff down to you to ask you for what you need. Please, please, PLEASE do not leave a nasty review on Yelp because of this, or because the parking situation was terrible. Parking everywhere in LA, ESPECIALLY Koreatown, is terrible, and bad Yelp reviews have a very real impact on restaurants and the livelihood of the workers there. Please carefully consider before you leave a poor review.
  • Sun Nong Dan - very popular 24-hour Korean restaurant in the heart of Ktown, you can find people here nearly all hours of the day. Likely will be a line here when you arrive. The food is great, recommend getting the galbi jjim (spicy beef rib stew) or the sullungtang (beef bone broth with noodles). Walking distance from Wilshire/Vermont and Wilshire/Normandie stations.
  • Jinsol Gukbap - Great option for gukbap (soup with rice), dwaeji galbi (marinated grilled pork ribs) and naengmyun (cold/iced noodles).
  • Kobawoo - THE place to go for Bossam (boiled pork belly wraps), and haemuljun (seafood pancakes) Walking distance from Wilshire/Vermont
  • 77Kentucky - Massive portions of great Korean-style fried chicken. Walking distance from Wilshire/Vermont
  • El Pollo A La Brasa - Fantastic Peruvian rotisserie chicken. Walking distance from Wilshire/Western.
  • BCD Tofu House - Gonna get a lot of flak from LA Koreans for this one too, but it has absolutely massive seating space if you have a large party, and really, really easy parking with reasonable prices. You're here for the soondubu (spicy tofu stew). Walking distance from Wilshire/Normandie.
  • Chun Ju Han Il-Kwan - Great little spot for Budaejjigae ("army stew", really just an amalgamation of spam, other meat, rice cake and vegetables in a spicy stew). Walking distance from Wilshire/Normandie and Wilshire/Vermont
  • Guelaguetza - Fantastic Oaxacan Mexican restaurant in southern Koreatown. Moles here are just divine. Not really accessible by metro, but it's not that far of a drive/lyft/uber from the convention center.
  • Myeong Dong Kyoja - My favorite place for kalguksu (noodle soup) and mandu (dumplings). Big portions at low prices, really consistent food. Great place overall.
  • Here's Looking at You ($$) - One of my current favorite restaurants in LA. It can get kind of weird, and its this Asian-influenced take on American food. Try place a reservation beforehand, and be prepared for the price (at least $35 a person, easily north of $50) LA Times review here. Walking distance from Wilshire/Western.
  • Beverly Soondubu - My personal preference for soondubu over BCD, but it's much smaller and definitely can't cater to large groups as well.
  • Yu Chun - Go-to place for many Korean-Americans for naengmyun (cold noodles). Perfect for a hot summer day.
  • Cassell's - Classic burger join in Koreatown. Some people consider it on the pricier end for a burger (around $10 iirc) but I find it well worth the price. Walking distance from Wilshire/Normandie.
  • Chicken Warriors - Pretty new spot that does these massive cast-iron pans of Korean fried chicken mixed with other Korean foods. It's a little confusing to get to, as it's in the same building as a different, larger Korean BBQ joint, but if you walk in, then immediately make a right through a second set of glass doors, you'll be in the restaurant. Come with at least 3 people, each skillet is big, and is tough to finish with only 1-2. Great place to drink as well. Walking distance from Wilshire/Vermont. Korean Barbeque This is, by FAR the most requested thing that friends from out of town ask me to take them to - regardless of whether they are into Korean culture / Kpop or like Asian food, it seems that KBBQ in LA has made a name for itself around the world. As a result, it gets a separate category on this list. Expect to pay upwards of $20 for most places if you want decent quality meat, $15 is generally the bare minimum to get something good.
  • Parks BBQ ($$) - More or less THE place for top-shelf korean barbeque, with a price to match. Pretty much every K-Pop celebrity that has been to LA has probably eaten here, including 2NE1, Tiffany, Astro, Monsta X (and many many more, I just can't remember them all off the top of my head). If you want to catch a celebrity sighting, this is probably the most likely place, but I still wouldn't get your hopes up. The food is absolutely fantastic, but it can easily run you north of $40.
  • Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong - A Koreatown staple, transplanted from Korea by comedian/variety personality Kang Hodong. Great cuts of meat, in an awesome, if a bit raucous, atmosphere. However, it can have serious lines, especially on a friday/saturday night, so be aware. It's A La Carte style KBBQ though, NOT all you can eat. That being said, it's still going to be roughly $25-35 a person before alcohol.
  • Quarters - In the same plaza as Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, this is a slightly more American take on KBBQ. It's excellent food, your wait staff will speak English if that's an issue, and the ambiance and service are solid. It's A La Carte just like Kang Ho Dong though, NOT all you can eat.
  • Oo Kook - One of the best All You Can Eat (AYCE) KBBQ in Ktown in my opinion. Roughly $25-35 a person before drinks.
  • Dream - A bit farther away from Staples on the north end of KTown, they do really good all you can Eat. I go here quite often.
  • ** Places to avoid - Personally, I'm not a fan of these places, because they consistently fail to put out quality food, or have switched owners so often that quality can vary wildly. Bud Namu, Castle BBQ (or Castle II), O Dae San, Hae Jang Chon
  • Farther away The LA dining scene in recent years has rapidly expanded, and has made some pretty great restaurants. Unfortunately, many are farther away than Koreatown or Downtown, and I don't want to make this post longer than it already is. If anybody is interested, I can definitely add it in the comments, but I'll leave it empty for now.

To-Do

LA in general, and Koreatown specifically, is probably one of the few places where you will get multiple stores selling KPop merchandise. There are three that I myself frequent, but I'm sure more will come up on Yelp. In addition, there are usually one or two booths on the convention floor in KCON LA that is selling CD's and other merch, but usually the store itself will have a larger selection. I'm not sure what other people would be interested in doing besides eating, so please let me know if I'm missing something!
  • Music Plaza - My go-to store. I don't do direct price comparisons, but this store definitely has the widest selection. I've found relatively obscure things like the SNSD Heart to Heart compilation CD. They will always have the latest album in stock. I'm not much of a postecalendar buyer, but they seem to have a pretty good selection. You can also find those fanclub lights (is that what they are called?) here as well. There's also a good collection of older Korean singers here, like Lena Park, Younha, Lee Moon Sae, etc. It's a relatively small storefront in the Koreatown Plaza mall on Western, so parking is easy, and it's not TOO far of a walk from the Wilshire/Western metro station. I believe they also have a booth at KCON, but the selection is obviously more limited there.
  • Choice Music - Another very popular K-Pop store. Definitely more clean/modern than Music Plaza, but I find that they have less variety of albums in stock, as they only tend to keep most things around a few years back at most. However, if you are looking for an album that was released recently, they are guaranteed to have it, and every single variety of it, available. Prices are very competitive, and they seem to have a wide variety of other merch here as well. As an added bonus, they frequently will have pre-order goodies for you, even if you aren't pre-ordering an album. As an example, when I bought TWICEcoaster: Lane 2 from them, they also gave me the little packet of wallet-sized member photos that came with pre-orders, even though I never pre-ordered the album, and I was probably at least a week late in buying the album. It's in the Koreatown Galleria on Olympic and Western, which is a pretty far walk from any train lines. There should be a bus line that runs nearby, but the best option is probably just to ubelyft there. If you have a car, there is a parking structure attached to the mall, so parking is nice and easy.
  • Aladdin Used Books - I really wanted to keep this off the list, as it's borderline not even really a kpop store. It's a used bookstore of Korean books. However, they have a CD section where they sell new and used Korean music CD's. They have a huge variety, I've gotten older albums from Epik High or Peppertones or S.E.S here, but they also carry some of the newer stuff. Sometimes you can get an album for quite a bit less than its retail price, if you don't mind it already being opened.
  • 3rd Street Promenade - Probably the most popular shopping area in LA. Easily accessible by Metro rail from the Staples CenteConvention center, it's also right next to the famous Santa Monica pier (that pier with the ferris wheel and small roller coaster on it). You can find a ton of your usual American clothing stores in and around 3rd street promenade, in case you needed/wanted clothes or accessories to wear since you forgot something at home. It's roughly a 45-70 minute ride on the train to here, and roughly the same time by car. I recommend using the train because parking in Santa Monica is both annoying and expensive.
  • CGV Cinemas - One of the few Korean-language theatres in the states, it's located across the street from Wilshire/Western station. They'll usually have English subtitles for any foreign films they show.
  • The Face Shop - There are several makeup stores scattered around Koreatown, probably one of the most popular is The Face Shop. There's one in the CGV Cinemas courtyard across the street from the Wilshire/Western Station.
  • California Market - Really? A Supermarket? Hear me out - you can get cheap beesoju/other liquor here to drink at your hotel if that's your thing. Not only that, but there's a solid selection of Korean makeup stores / accessory stores, and a pretty good food court upstairs (on the second and third floors)
  • Hwa Sun Ji - Technically, this is something to eat/drink, but it's an experience in my opinion too. It's probably the only traditional tea house in Koreatown, and you'll see people of all ages coming here. The teas are obviously quite good, and the shaved ice is amazing as well. Walking distance from the purple line.
  • Sul and Beans - Another shaved ice place in Koreatown, also very good. It's also in the CGV cinemas plaza, on the second floor.
  • Somi Somi - A soft-serve ice cream place, where you can buy your ice cream in a waffle-like pastry that's shaped like a fish. Toppings are good, flavors are good, and as a bonus, it was recently featured by Tiffany of SNSD in her Buzzfeed video. It's also in the CGV cinemas plaza, next to Sul and Beans.
  • Bumsan - Another soft-serve ice cream place, apparently owned and run by a relative (relatives?) of Sunny (Sunny of SNSD). Good soft serve, makes for a really nice insta pic. A bit on the pricey side for many though, but it does taste pretty good.

To Drink

I understand that not all of you are drinking age in America. For those of you who aren't I recommend Boba Time in Koreatown on 6th Street and Alexandria if you want boba / bubble tea / pearl milk tea. Document Cafe and Space E.Um Cafe (full disclosure, I'm friends with the owner) are also personal favorites of mine if coffee is more your thing, and all are within walking distance of the Purple line train stops. Prism Coffee is probably my current favorite, and just past the western edge of Koreatown. They roast their own beans, and make some pretty good pourovers (but those can get expensive, get a cold brew if you want something more reasonable) As a bonus, Space E.Um, Boba Time and Prism sometimes play KPop, so it's a fun little game to see what songs you recognize. However, for those of you who are of drinking age and are going to KCON, you're in luck. The bar / brewery scene in LA has massively improved over the years. Some personal favorites:
  • Everson Royce Bar - Probably one of the most popular bars in LA, and for good reason. It's also a personal favorite of mine. Absolutely amazing cocktails, great food food, and great beer. Insanely extensive selection of straight liquor as well, if scotch/whiskey/bourbon etc is more your thing. A relatively short hop away from the convention center by car or ubelyft.
  • Beer Belly - Great craft beer place in Koreatown. Walking distance from the purple line, Wilshire/Western. Food is average in my opinion, but it has a great, constantly rotating selection of local craft beers on tap.
  • Gaam - Very popular korean fusion bar in Koreatown, right next to Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. Decent fusion food, good variety of cocktails, walking distance from the purple line. THE place to go if you wanna go somewhere loud but not too club-like and want to party it up with a bunch of friends.
  • OB Bear - Classic Koreatown bar. You're definitely here for the beer (specifically the Korean OB Lager) and the fried chicken. About as "authentic" as a Koreatown experience as you can get. Walking distance from the purple/red line.
  • Birds & Bees - Nice little underground cocktail bar in downtown. Has a small beer selection as well.
  • Spire 73 - Currently the title holder of "America's tallest open air bar". Great views of downtown from the rooftop bar 73 floors up, you can find it in the brand new Wilshire Grand building.
  • Arts District Brewing Co. - Beer brewery in Arts District. Very popular.
  • Mumford Brewing - Beer brewery in Little Tokyo, personal favorite of mine. Be aware though, they close quite early (9PM)
  • Highland Park Brewery Chinatown - Newly opened branch of Highland Park Brewery, a personal favorite of mine. Awesome new space, solid menu of bar foods, and some great beer, especially IPAs and Sours.
  • Boomtown Brewery - Beer brewery in Arts District. Focuses on mostly lighter beers and pale ales/IPA's it feels like. They have some pool tables and other spaces to play games.
  • Iron Triangle Brewery - Beer brewery in Arts District.

As an LA native, I want kpop to love the city as much as I do, and experience the best of what it has to offer. KCON LA is going to be great!

submitted by aparonomasia to kpop