August 24, 2012

  • Once Upon a Time in Grocery Land: A Tale of Woe and Vegetables

    Once upon a time there was a dear little radish named Herckle. Herckle was small and a little bit orange for a radish, but he often thought that he made up for it with a quick wit and a quicker wrist. Herckle had the fastest wrist in the produce aisle at his local grocery store. He was not unpopular, amongst his fellow radishes, but Herckle was also not the most popular vegetable in his little bin. A great long carrot named Arnot was. Arnot had a big green top and long carroty hairs and all the women vegetables swooned over him every time he walked past.

    Normally this did not bother Herckle, who was mostly gay anyway, and thus not tremendously interested in female vegetables. But, sometimes, in the dark after the store shut down for the night and all the other vegetables were sleeping, Herckle would lie awake, watching the twinkling starlight reflect off the lights in the high ceiling. The mystical light patterns would swirl around the firmament of his world and Herckle would stew. He dared not even whisper it in the daylight, but deep in the night Herckle knew that he wanted more out of life. He did not want to spend his days playing second banana to an uppity carrot. He wanted to soar like an eagle. He wanted to dive like a falcon. He wanted to live free.

    There had been rumours for months now about grocery stores in the northwest going rogue. Herckle had heard about pears with guns, rising up against their green-grocer overlords, bravely fighting and dying for the kind of freedom that so excited Herckle’s soul when he dreamt. That was impossible here, though. There simply wasn’t the spirit for it. The leafy greens were wilted and brown, the carrots were soft and limp, even the potatoes were green under the peels. It could never work.

    Herckle knew this, but still he dreamt. Still he cast his eyes away to the farthest edges of the store and dreamt of what lay beyond even the distant meat shelves or the baker’s counter. But each time he did, he turned away, his small, sightly orangey frame wracked with the sighs of the desperate dreamer. Instead, he sought refuge in verse, pouring his heart into haikus and sonnets.

    Fruit above and fruit below
    Rotting in the sun
    dreams abreast and hell to show
    for all that god has done

    He was forsaken. His world reeked of failure and desperation and the smarmy, unctuous voice of Arnot gathered to Herckle a dark cloud of hatred. Days passed and with each month Herckle’s hatred grew. He could feel it inside of him, a worm in his gut that ate away at the sunshine in his heart and replaced it with nothing but cold. Herckle’s thoughts cast a long shadow on the fruit bin and his fellow produce began to feel his shiftlessness. They grew suspicious of one another. Fights broke out often, and grew more brutal as time went on.

    It was in the growing chaos that the evil in Herckle’s heart sought avenue for its desires against the loathsome Arnot. Nobody would notice. Fruits and vegetables were dying every day now. It was a rare morning that the store manager did not open the shop to find a new corpse cast into the aisles, pulp and juice everywhere upon the walls and product cases. Nobody would know. 

    Herckle planned furiously. Gone were the long nights of dreaming. Vanished were the flights of childish fancy that had once danced through his mind’s eye in the quiet under the moon. Every waking moment now was spent fixated on one thing only: scheming.

    Soon, my pretty, we shall find
    the darkest turnings of my mind
    and all you’ve wrought will come to nest
    deep inside that carrot breast

    My hungry blade is quick and sharp, Arnot.

    He thought about leaving threatening messages to Arnot. He traced words lazily in the entrails of a melon, smashed in the hazy fumes of early morning by a gang of rapacious celery. The seeds tickled his skin and his mind wandered. No, it would not be good to warn him. It was more important to have surprise on his side than fear. There would be plenty of time to taunt and torture Arnot later.

    One morning an opportunity arose. It was innocuous at first. So innocent that Herckle almost missed it. One of the delivery truck drivers let slip in conversation to the store manager that the next stop on his route would be to the airforce base down the road. The same company that supplied produce to the grocery store also supplied food to the fighter pilots and the engineers who helped put them in the air.

    It was perfect.

      Herckle would strike from above. He would bring vengeance down upon the head of his most despised enemy. Odium filled his heart and clouded his judgment. The following week during delivery, Herckle waited behind a box of soft taco shells while the delivery man loaded boxes of food into the back of the grocery store. Once he was out of sight, visiting with the manager in the back office, Herckle snuck onto the truck and hid himself in the boxes which he hoped were to be offloaded to the airforce base. It was dark and smelly and the air was thick with mildew and moisture. Sweat beaded on Herckle’s orangey skin. He licked his lips and began to sing to himself in a shakey voice.

    From far above your death draws near
    poor Arnot earns pain most dear
    I’ll rip and render, lash and chew
    pulp and juice and devour you

    He giggled madly and repeated the phrase over and over again until he felt the truck lurch into motion. He felt feverish. The back and forth of the vehicle usettled his stomach. He could feel the delivery driver taking the turns too fast, humming to himself as he went. They were almost there. The base was only a few miles away. Herckle sang to himself, faster and faster. I’ll rip and render, lash and chew, pulp and juice and devour you, Arnot!

    The truck screeched to a halt. They had arrived. Herckle tensed himself. The back of the truck slammed open, and the portly delivery man reached down for the first crate of food. His hairy arms brushed past Herckle, lying wedged between the first crate and the one behind it, but he paid no attention. Once the man turned his back, Herckle got up and cautiously began to follow him. First down one corridor, then up another. Herckle did not know where to go, but he knew what he was looking for, and he needed to get outside to find it.

    At last, he made his way to a broad set of metal doors that led to the outside. Tarmac was all around him. Sunlight burned down and the heat of the ground rose in front of Herckle, glimmering and distorting the light in the way Herckle had seen come off the grills in the meat and deli section of the store. He felt his strength sap and he wilted slightly, but pushed on. He gnashed his teeth and rent his hair and forced himself forward. He needed something specific: he needed a jet.

    There! Before him he saw it, rising up like a behemoth. It glinted metallic and the worm in his heart stopped gnawing upon him long enough to spit approvingly, flagitiously. This would do. This would do perfectly. He clambered up the ladder to the pilot’s seat.

    Herckle had always had quick wrists. He hoped they would be quick enough. He gripped the stick and started the jet. He was not familiar with the specific mechanisms of the vehicle, but he had years of experience living in a grocery store, and the two were not uncommon. In fact, there were more similarities than differences. Intuition took over, and he lifted the jet off the ground, and headed in the direction of the grocery store.

    It was not long before he was very close to it. The aircraft travelled quite quickly. He took careful aim and prepared to send a missile straight down into the very centre of the grocery store. From hell’s heart I stab at thee! But just as his finger hovered over the red button, a roaring blur sped past his window. Another fighter jet! The airforce had noticed the missing plane and had come to reclaim it. 

    His radio cackled. A voice came through. “Interloper! Land the aircraft or I will open fire!” Herckle ignored him and refocused his attention on the store below, but a klaxon alarm broke out; the other pilot had him in a missile lock. “I say again, land the aircraft now or I will destroy you!” The ratatat tattoo of machine-gun fire burst across the nose of his plane. Herckle swore and pulled the aircraft into a dive.

    “I’ll see you in hell, Arnot!” he roared. Down flew the plane. Blood rushed to his head and battle sung in his ears and before him he saw the fields of his birth and felt the seeds of his ancestors and then suddenly there was flame and heat and he felt overwhelming satisfaction in his heart and then he felt no more.

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