Aaand this one brings me firmly back into the wonderful wacky territory of WTF.
Chuck’s challenge this week is a story using a color in the title. So I went to my trusty crayon box (okay, I went to Crayola.com) and started digging. I was initially drawn to such fancy and whimsical colors as crimson and cerulean, periwinkle and chartreuse, but for some reason, when I saw the color “Neon Carrot,” my brain grabbed hold and wouldn’t let go, like a toddler grabbing hold of my leg hair. (What, your toddler has never grabbed onto your leg hair? LUCKY.)
So here’s “Neon Carrots,” a tale of vindication for every child who’s ever been a little bit leery of eating his vegetables. I tried out a bit of a different style in this one: almost fairy-taleish. Not sure if it reads or not. Let me know what you think.
Zelda poked at a carrot, imagining that it jumped a little at the prick of her fork.
Bryan lifted a forkful of carrots and revered them under the fluorescent light. “What’s with these carrots, mom?”
Mother gave a ceremonious clearing of her throat and smiled primly at him. “They’re the newest thing. I saw them in the grocery store this morning, and it was as if they were begging to be eaten. I just had to try them!”
Father winked at Bryan and stuffed a bit of pot roast into his mouth. “She just can’t help herself, your mother. Sees something bright and shiny and it pulls her right in.”
“Well, aren’t they something special?” She grabbed the pot and pulled it closer; the phosphorescent goop within illuminating her face from below like a campfire storyteller’s flashlight. The orangey-yellow glow suffused her features and lent her a slightly sickly quality. “Neon carrots. Isn’t science incredible?”
Bryan and Zelda shared a look of mutual misery. Zelda pushed her plate away. “I don’t like them.”
“You haven’t tried them, dear.”
“I don’t have to try them. They’re disgusting.”
Father leveled a steely eye at her. “Eat your carrots, Z.”
“What about Bryan?”
Bryan scowled and elbowed her under the table. “Thanks a lot, barf-bag.”
“Eat,” said father, in a tone which brooked no further argument.
Revolted, Zelda speared a slice of carrot and brought it to her mouth, pausing to take a deep breath first. Like most of mother’s cooking, it was overcooked and undersalted, the end result being a pasty tasteless mass in her mouth.
Mother beamed. “You can just taste the enzymes, can’t you? They cross-germinated these carrots with bioluminescent kelp from the deepest part of the ocean to increase their nutritional value. The glow is just a neat side effect. Aren’t they fun?”
Bryan chewed thoughtfully before nodding. “They’re not bad.”
Father winked at him. “That’s the spirit. Zelda, what do you think?”
Zelda swallowed. They actually weren’t all that bad. In fact, she suddenly felt compelled to try another bite, which she did. She narrowed her eyes and bobbed her head up and down as the earthy undertones of the root, unnoticed at first, began to burst on her tongue. She cleaned her plate and even asked for more carrots; mother grinned knowingly at father and spooned her another heaping helping.
They didn’t have the neon carrots again for a week, but in the meantime, mother brought home luminous squash and lustrous watercress, the latest genetically modified offerings infused with deepsea kelp and released by the Kane Farmers’ Association. The children devoured their portions each more heartily than the last, with a zeal and excitement they had never shown for their food before. Father became suspicious; he’d never known the kids to care so much about nutrition before. Mother was just happy they were eating their vegetables.
A week passed, and one afternoon while Zelda was playing with her dolls, she looked out the window and saw Bryan digging in the backyard like a crazed dog. She dropped her princess and ran outside. Bryan didn’t even look at her, he just kept scrabbling at the earth with mud-crusted nails, throwing handfuls of dirt and rocks over his shoulder. His skin was oranger than usual, but she attributed that to the clay dust hanging in the air. “Help me dig,” he insisted.
Zelda wanted to ask, “for what,” but she realized that Bryan’s digging wasn’t so strange, and in fact she felt like digging in the ground might not be such a bad idea herself. They worked for the better part of an hour — neither of them thought to get shovels, and the feel of the raw earth under her fingernails oddly comforted her — and in the end had dug a little trench, two feet deep and three feet across. Wordlessly, they nodded to each other, removed their shoes, stepped into the ditch, and began to cover themselves over with dirt — first the feet, then the ankles, then the calves. The close, damp cold of the earth felt right around her toes. They stood there, arms flat at their sides and chins upturned toward the sun, for a full hour before Father got home from work and asked them what they were up to.
“We’re neon carrots!” Bryan called, his face shining in the fading evening sun.
“So you are, so you are,” Father laughed. “Come on inside. Your mom’s picked up some incandescent cauliflower to go with the lamb chops.”
During his bath, Mother noticed a tiny leaf on a tinier green stem just above Bryan’s ear. She plucked it out, assuming he’d rolled in some grass, but Bryan began to howl and thrash in pain and could not be quieted again until mother agreed to give him another helping of carrots at dinnertime.
As they sat down, Zelda brushed her hair back behind her ear, deliberately showing him the tiny sprout at the nape of her neck. “It’ll grow back,” she whispered.
Bryan wiped his eyes and grinned at her.
Some nights later, signaled perhaps by the moon or a change in the weather, they met in the yard again to dig their ditches: deeper this time and faster, their bleeding fingers seeking the depth and the quiet and the dark of the earth, their vegetated brains numb to the pain. As they stood in the earth with just the creeping tendrils of root and branch peeking up from the tops of their heads, they smiled at each other before entombing themselves in the ground until the harvest.
The bioluminescent produce was pulled from shelves a few days later with no explanation, and the Kane Farmers’ Association vanished like a thief in the night.
Mother and Father were upset when they disappeared, but pleasantly surprised at the newfound bounty of neon carrots sprouting in the backyard. Soon, Mother was pregnant again, and she was positively glowing.