Okay, blame Chuck Wendig for this one. The challenge was to take the picture in that post and do a bit of flash fiction about it. I came in around 850 words, and I’m not sure I completely love the last line, but it’s not even 10 and I haven’t had my coffee yet.
Mum said to eat my vegetables.
Yes, “vegetables” is what she called the pile of percolating green sludge on the corner of my plate. It was rich in nutrients and high in fiber, and would make me strong if I ate every bite. But what kind of vegetables, at ten minutes out of the crock, bubbled like the depths of Hell’s cauldron?
“Artichockes,” she said.
I was hard pressed to believe her. For starters, every artichoke I’d ever seen had spiny nodule leaves, and reeked like a dead cat’s arse. This was more like butternut squash, lumpy and smooth at the same time, and it smelled almost sickeningly sweet, like flowers and candy rolled into one.
“But Mum, I don’t want to eat my vegetables. They’re weird all over.”
“Eat your vegetables,” Mum said, a sunshine smile plastered on her face.
It was clear by the clasp of her hands and the set of her shoulders I was going nowhere until I’d completed the task before me. I consoled myself by saying Mummy knew best, that I was her good boy, and good boys cleaned their plates. With no clear alternatives (our lack of a dog pained me so) I closed my eyes and opened wide, forcing a spoonful of the mysterious food into my craw. The gooey mass slithered its way towards my gullet, and I was surprised – nay, delighted – to discover that it was the tastiest vegetable I’d ever had the pleasure of consuming. Reluctance turned to exuberance as I gobbled all of it up, going so far as to lap my plate clean when I could scrape no more of it onto my spoon.
“Good boy, now go to bed,” Mum said.
I padded towards my room, my belly full and oh-so-happy. I idly hoped Mum would make artichokes every day, for every meal. At nine years old, I’d come to the well-informed opinion that artichokes were the best thing ever, and I never wanted to eat anything else again.
The problem, of course, was that artichokes were a sinister vegetable and, if left to their own devices, would deliver unto the unsuspecting masses what I’ve since titled The Bad. The Bad began that night around two in the morning, when I felt my guts churning like a tilt-a-whirl. My stomach was on fire, bloated and hot like I’d swallowed a star, yet it flopped like a fish, too, and I wondered if I was about to expel something unpleasant from one of my orifices.
“Mum,” I called out, “Please come. Something’s terribly wrong. I think I’ve taken sick.”
“No, you’re not sick. You just ate your vegetables,” Mum said.
I hadn’t the faintest idea what she meant by that, and I rolled around in my bed, curling my legs up to my chest in hopes that it’d all go away. My skin went taut, stretched too far over my bulging insides, and I went itchy all over, like I’d been been playing in the poison oak again.
“Mum! I’m itchy and I don’t feel well. Please help!”
“It’s just the vegetables,” Mum said, coming to stand in the doorway of my room. I couldn’t see her face – just the outline of her body against the light of the hall – but I knew she was watching me, and by the dulcet tone to her words, I knew she was smiling. “You’ll grow up strong because you’re a good boy.”
A good boy I might be, but I was an uncomfortable good boy thanks to The Bad, and I let out a piteous moan as I began to scratch my skin, feeling strange bumps developing all over. Stranger still was that they grew taller, then longer, extending out and waving of their own accord. Where I’d once been a boy I’d become a sea urchin, and I yelped as I felt another wave of them burst from my back to brush against my pajamas, extra sets of fingers where I ought not have any at all.
I whined, and was about to ask my Mum for help again, but the strange burn from my guts lurched its way into my windpipe, then my throat and neck, and there was a sickening snap as my lower jaw wrenched itself back, as if repositioned by invisible hands.
What’s happening to me, what have the artichokes done?! I thought, but the answers were few, the transformations many. I writhed and thrashed on the bed, my body burning and pulsing all over. My breath came in panicked pants, a wet sort of gurgle behind every intake of oxygen.
Mum, as if hearing my silent plea, moved into the room and sat on the edge of my mattress, reaching out to stroke along my side. A few of my growths coiled around her fingers like small tentacles, but instead of being disgusted or put off, Mum trilled and cooed, moving up to lay beside me in my bed, her nose inches away from mine on the pillow.
“You’re such a good boy,” she said quietly, leaning in to kiss my itching nose. “And good boys grow strong for their mummies. Aren’t you glad you ate your vegetables?”
My only answer was a twitch and a moan, the protrusions on my face waving at her in affection.