Jason ended up in the present-day MustardChef kitchen, with its gleaming utensils and shining jars of fresh food. He breathed a sigh of relief. One improvement had been made already. Before he even thought about checking that Tia and Stephen were alive and well and not in a horrifying cradle-snatching relationship, Jason knelt down and opened his oven.
His eyes began to well up with tears of joy: the Beef Wellington was perfect. It was golden brown, the pastry was shiny on top and Jason could hear the succulent meat gently bubbling underneath. He hurriedly turned off the oven and threw a scrap of foil over the top to prevent the pastry browning any further.
Emerging from underneath the counter top, Jason breathed a sigh of relief and wiped the joyful tears from his eyes. His dish was exquisite and he stood a real chance of winning his heat and proceeding to the next round. In a few weeks, he could even be crowned (with a chef’s toque, of course) the winner of the fourth series of MustardChef.
“Excuse me,” a voice said from just behind Jason’s left shoulder, “Who are you?”
Jason didn’t recognize the voice at all. It sounded as if it came from a young male teenager, and there were certainly none of those in the kitchen. Jason turned slowly, so very slowly, to see the person behind him.
It was a seventeen-year-old boy in flared 1980s trousers and a knitted vest.
He was holding a small child in a puffy pink dress at arm’s length.
“I think she’s done a poo,” he said, turning his nose up and pointing the baby in Jason’s direction. Jason took a step backwards.
“Who are you?!” he shrieked.
“I asked you first,” baby-wielding youth retorted.
“Jason, and don’t you give me that baby! I don’t want it.”
“Well I’m not changing her nappy; she stinks! I’m a budding chef, not a nanny.”
The cogs in Jason’s brain whirred so fast they almost crashed. “Who-who did you say you were?”
“I didn’t. I’d shake your hand but this is in the way. I’m Weston Rosenblum, and this is Tia.”
Jason nodded. “Excuse me,” he said and made a run for it, but he didn’t get far because another child appeared in his way, gabbling at him in a foreign language, fear in her eyes. Jason recognized her as a mini-version of one of the production crew.
“That’s Filsan,” Weston explained, “I don’t understand a word she says but she’s from Somalia, apparently.” Filsan started screaming. Weston raised his voice to shout over her. “The kids are a bit scared; we just sort of appeared here, as if we’d been drugged and kidnapped. The adults are busy planning how to get out but it’s difficult to explain to the children, and we don’t know how long we’ll be here. Filsan seems to get on with one of the other girls, Angela, but she’s a bit…” he trailed off.
“Odd? Crazy? Terrifying?” Jason asked.
Weston just nodded.
“How old would you say she is?”
“Twelve, I think.”
Jason did a quick calculation. If Weston was seventeen and Angela twelve, that would make him six-years-old in this bizarre parallel time zone. Except he wasn’t, he was still 23 – and very confused. He bent down to double-check his precious Beef Wellington while Weston skipped around the kitchens telling everyone that the newcomer might just be their savior.
“I still need someone to change Tia’s nappy!” Weston barked, “I am so not touching it. Stephen? Please?”
Jason’s ears pricked up.
“Lord, no!” Stephen wrinkled his nose, although in his 52-year-old state he was ironically less wrinkled than Jason knew him to be. “I’m not touching that! There is a reason I never had children, you know. Disgusting things. Euch!”
You might think differently were you a bit younger and she a bit older, mused Jason.
“And could someone please control that demon child!” Stephen shouted. For a hideous moment, Jason thought maybe the cantankerous old man was referring to Filsan, with her dark skin and incomprehensible language, but then it dawned on him that he must mean Angela. Well, the girl was setting herself up for it, marching around the room in a witch fancy-dress costume, complete with pointed black hat and a wand of some sort. Jason was now standing up, watching the show unfold. He decided to go and join his fellow contestants, judges and crew – maybe he could get Angela to stop being so weird.
No sooner had Jason introduced himself to and shaken the hand of Stephen than Angela launched herself at him.
“If you don’t send me home right now I’m going to turn you into a chocolate bunny!” She screeched, brandishing a sharp skewer.
Jason shirked away. “Don’t you point that skewer at me!”
“It’s not a skewer,” Angela replied darkly, “it’s a magic wand. Duh!” Out of the corner of his eye, Jason distinctly saw both Weston and Stephen shudder.
“Tickety-boo!” Angela cried, hitting Jason on the head with the skewer-wand. Unsurprisingly, he remained human. 17-year-old Weston Rosenblum rolled his eyes.
“Ooow! Goddammitangela!” Jason shouted, rubbing his head.
Weston snorted derisively. “Tickety-boo? That’s your magic word?!”
Angela pouted and turned the skewer on him. “If you insult the power of my magic one more time I will turn you into a…” She looked around the room for inspiration, “Giant wooden spoon!”
“Okay,” said Jason, feeling it was time to step in. “Okay, please don’t do that. Don’t– what?!” Someone was tugging at his apron strings from behind. Jason turned to see Filsan with chocolate all around her mouth. She had, by the looks of it, just bitten the ears off of a small chocolate rabbit. Jason screamed. His nerves had been shot to pieces by the day’s events. Angela burst into a demonic chuckle.
“See,” Stephen screamed, “DEVIL CHILD!”
Filsan and baby Tia burst into tears.
“All right, that’s ENOUGH!!!” Jason shouted even more noisily over the crying, “I’ve had it with these shenanigans! Everyone follow me; we’re getting out of this kitchen!”