Vampire Vegetables

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“You can’t go in there,” Pete said, his voice barely more than a whisper.

Johnny looked over the fence at Miss Tokar’s house. He’d only been here a week, but all of the kids made it clear that they didn’t go into Miss Tokar’s yard. It didn’t look very scary. On television, the house the kids were all afraid of always looked scary. It would be run down, or a big giant old-fashioned house.

Miss Tokar’s house looked just like Johnny’s house next door, except her walls were painted yellow, while his were red. There were only three kinds of houses in the neighborhood, he had noticed. They might be painted different colors, or have different things in the yard, but all of the buildings fell into one of three shapes. He’d asked his dad about that, and after the usual comment that Johnny was too young to be noticing things like that, he said it was because the neighborhood wasn’t very old. The shape of their house (and Miss Tokar’s) was the most common one on the street.

If it wasn’t the house, then perhaps it was the yard, but there was nothing terribly exciting there, either. The lawn was neatly trimmed and clear of any clutter. The fence wasn’t opposing, either, being only waist-high, with large gaps between each post. A large tree grew in the front yard, but even having shed its leaves for the winter, it didn’t look menacing. Its branches didn’t seem to reach for you, even if you only looked at it from the corner of your eye. They were spaced in a somehow inviting fashion, great for climbing, and the longer he studied it, the more Johnny got the strange impression that climbing the tree would somehow make it very happy.

“If it’s not the house, and it’s not the yard, what could it be?” he muttered to himself.

“What?” Pete asked. Pete was a mousy little boy, who was a full year younger than any of the other kids in the gang. He was the only one willing to approach Johnny at the fence; the others huddled behind a bush on Johnny’s front yard. Pete wasn’t here out of bravery, though. As the youngest, he got most of the jobs no one wanted to do dumped on him. Like making sure the new kid wasn’t going into Miss Tokar’s yard.

“I said that the ball’s right there, in the garden. I’d be back already with it if you hadn’t stopped me.” He was embarrassed that he’d been caught talking to himself again, but he tried not to let it show. “And it seems like the entire thing about losing a ball in the scary neighbor’s yard is incredibly cliché, anyway.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Pete said, somehow managing to be unable to tear his eyes away from the unassuming house without ever actually looking directly at it, either.

“It means it’s been done a thousand times on TV, and the whole thing’s stupid,” Johnny told him. Then he hopped over the fence and sauntered towards the garden.

If Johnny had to find something unusual about the house, he supposed the garden might qualify. It was bigger than any other garden in the neighborhood, at least. There were rows of herbs, each with a little sign in front telling what was growing there. He didn’t see anything there that he hadn’t seen written on the little bottles his mother kept in the spice rack, though.

Behind the herbs was where the vegetables were grown, although it looked like most of them had already been collected. More little signs explained that an empty row of dirt had once contained carrots, or zucchini, or potatoes. Three posts had vines wrapped around them, but there were no tomatoes left. The only vegetables left were three giant pumpkins growing in the far corner. The errant baseball had come to a rest next to largest of them.

As he picked up the baseball, Johnny considered the pumpkin. He had never seen one so big before, unless you counted the plastic display pumpkins stores put out for Halloween.

“I’m not plastic,” a voice said in his ear. He looked around, but there was no one there.

“Go ahead, touch me,” it continued. “You’ll see, I’m as real as they come.”

The pumpkin was talking to him. The voice didn’t seem to actually come from the plant itself. It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once, but he was certain it was the pumpkin talking. Some part of him knew that pumpkins couldn’t talk, and the entire situation made no sense, but that thought seemed terribly abstract at the moment.

He took off his glove and placed his hand on the pumpkin. It was surprisingly warm, but other than that it felt pretty much like he’d expect a pumpkin to feel.

“Me, too,” another pumpkin said, excitedly. “Me, too!”

“It’s not fair if you just touch that one,” the third added. “It’s already bigger than us.”

Johnny couldn’t help but smile at the child-like jealousy of the pumpkins (his father had also commented more than once that Johnny shouldn’t use terms like “child-like” while he was still a child himself). Removing his second glove, he put a hand on each of the other pumpkins.

They were just as warm as the first one, and it was a pleasant sensation. He suddenly felt very tired, and considered laying down amongst the talking pumpkins for a quick nap.

“Impressive, aren’t they?” someone said. The voice was decidedly real, compared to the pumpkins’ detached voices. He turned around to see a young woman smiling at him. She had long, curly black hair that fell around her shoulders, and friendly looking brown eyes.

“I am Nadya Tokar. You must be little Johnathan,” Miss Tokar said. She had a very heavy accent. It sounded sort of like the Russian accents he’d heard in the movies, but not quite the same.

“Everybody calls me Johnny,” he said, stifling a yawn. “And I’m sorry about trespassing. I just came here to…” He trailed off, trying to remember why he was there, or why he had felt the need to touch the pumpkins. “They’re very nice pumpkins,” he finally said, when he couldn’t come up with anything else.

She looked at the pumpkins with a small frown. “Yes. Not very well behaved, though. You look peckish. Come inside and I’ll get you a snack. Growing boys like you need to eat.”

The gang had all pressed close to the fence, curiosity overcoming their fear. He waved at them, but they were all staring in horror at Miss Tokar. He couldn’t understand why, though. She seemed nice enough. She wasn’t a scary old hag or anything.

Miss Tokar made him a cup of hot chocolate and a type of sweet he’d never seen before, little pink cubes dusted with sugar. They tasted oddly flowery, but they were good all the same. He thought about asking if they were from her home country, and maybe even where that was, but he didn’t want to sound rude, and trying to figure out the polite way to ask seemed like far too much trouble right now. It was all he could do to keep from falling asleep in his hot chocolate.

“All done?” Miss Tokar asked, as he put down the now empty mug. He nodded, sleepily. “Let’s get you home, then. You’ve had a long day and you look like you could use a nap.”

“’Mfine,” he mumbled, but he took her hand and she walked him back to his house.

“I saw him admiring my pumpkins,” he heard Miss Tokar telling his mother. “And I thought I would be a good neighbor and invite him in for some hot chocolate. When we were done, he just sort of crashed.”

“That’s unusual,” his mother said, kneeling in front of him to examine his face. “He normally never seems to run out of energy.”

“Moving can be hard on children. If you don’t mind the suggestion, some more iron in his diet, and I am sure he’ll be back to his normal self in a day or two.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Johnny’s mother said. “Thank you.”

Once Miss Tokar had left, she helped Johnny out of his coat, and told him to go to bed. He nodded and stumbled up the stairs to his room. Right before collapsing onto his bed, he glanced out the window into Miss Tokar’s garden.

His last thoughts before sleep took him, was that they were awfully red for pumpkins.

Prompt: Vampire Vegetables

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This week’s prompt is vampire vegetables. Believe it or not, this is actually part of real mythology.

Good luck and good writing!