A finger protrudes his mouth, nails claw around his elastic lips.
A new vegetable came out, they said it was made in a lab, somewhere in Nebraska. The color of fuchsias.
One fist emerges, small but bigger than the last I saw. Covered in saliva. And blood, the color of fuchsias.
They transported them out in masses, on planes, trucks and trains. Glittering with green stems, they rolled them out in grocery stores, Costcos, convenience stores, farmers markets.
The head pops out, it stretches and rips the corners of his mouth, screeching and kicking. People run away, as if it’s going to get them. We all know who it’s trying to get. I stay and call 911.
Tom Cruise was the vegetables’ first spokesperson. He came up on the tv screen and did some actiony stuff, when Netflix first started doing advertisements. They gave the vegetable a name, Turaples, bad marketing, I thought. But most people liked it.
Next is the body, naked torso, flailing and thrusting like a worm. It wedges its way through the man’s mouth. The paramedics arrive and sedate him. His eyes fall shut. Maybe they’ll save him. I think. I hope. I try not to look away.
Everyone told us the Turaples would relieve our stress. One bite and our worries would dissipate into the thick tainted air. Our anxiety would wash away with the acid rain. Parents packed them in our lunch bags. “A Turaple a day keeps the doctor away.”
It’s chewing on his face now. They all come out with teeth, it gnaws on his cheek. Paramedics get guns now, for instances like this. If they get there fast enough, it can be useful. A young man fumbles through his medical bag. His aim is weak and his hands are trembling. “Just do it…just do it,” I whisper.
The first case occurred somewhere on the East Coast. Initially, no link was made to the Turaples. It was ruled out as a freakish virus so we all quarantined ourselves until scientists sensed a pattern. My father, a religious Turaple eater, died 18 years after his first consumption.
The man with the gun shoots. I can tell he’s never shot a gun before. I’m pretty sure he did it with his eyes closed. He misses the creature and shoots the man right in the skull. The man is already limp from the sedation but his head jolts violently, blood with bits of brain spray the sidewalk. It looks like froot loops that have been left in milk for too long.
My friend Betsy got it prematurely. She ate a lot of Turaples. Luckily, she had symptoms so the doctors caught the parasite growing inside of her and gave her treatment. The treatment doesn’t always work and it’s a horrible process. Betsy spent her days hovered over the toilet bowl, puking out the parasite. When she wasn’t doing that she was in the hospital being studied for future treatment plans. She’s alive but she’s still eating Turaples. We don’t talk much anymore.
The police pull up.
“Who gave the rookie the gun?”
“We’re all rookies with the gun,” a paramedic is holding their hand to the man’s head, to catch the blood spilling from the bullet hole. He’s dead, I think. I walk away before the body bag.
Ten years ago they stopped the campaigns that told us to eat Turaples and started campaigns that told us to stop. The Turaples are addictive. I saw it in my parents and the way they itched. It’s hard to escape once you’re hooked. People tried hypnosis, ate other vegetables, and popped pills prescribed by their physicians.
I walk home through the quiet suburban streets. For a moment, I forget. I see the maple trees. I feel the autumn sun on my back. I spot a squirrel peeking around a white picket fence. Then I pass Carly James’ house and I remember that her wife died in the summer.
My mother still eats Turaples. She hasn’t cut down as much as she says. I know she eats them in the backyard at midnight, during her drive to work, on her way to pick me up from school.
She must be gardening because the screen door is propped open. I call for her and walk down the back hall to the bedrooms. There’s a Turaple on the carpet, a chunk bitten out from the side.
She’s lying on the bed with her parasite.
Chunks of her flesh, gone.
Chloe Lawrence is graduating in May with a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing from Montclair State University. In the fall, she will be attending the MFA in Creative Writing program at American University. She writes dark fiction and nonfiction for school and in her spare time. When she’s not writing, she will read anything she can get her hands on.
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