Larry looked at the buzz cut green of his front lawn. It was a positively splendid mow. His eyes darted across the street to study the Henderson’s yard. Tufts of unruly green and yellow popped up like pimples. His thin lips curled into a self-humoured sneer.
Baby Kale was hurrying by on the sidewalk, so Larry snapped a salute while sitting atop his mower. The young kale twisted his leafy mid-section towards the neighbourhood worm and attempted to shout salutations mid-stride.
“Hi,” Baby Kale called, leafery rustling as he waved a stem.
“Mornin’ Baby Kale.”
Baby Kale was hustling. He had somewhere to go and was hoofin’ it to get there. Larry was wriggling off his mower when he heard an “UMPH” and saw Baby Kale had fallen. The worm glanced up and down the street.
Shaking his pink head with a grin, Larry slithered over to Baby Kale and offered the little plant a slimy hand. Baby Kale was furiously fighting tears, liquid pooling in his big green eyes. “Now, now Baby Kale,” Larry consoled as he pulled the plantling up, “no need for tears. It’s alright.”
Baby Kale swallowed a sob and pulled a leafy foot up for inspection. “Does it have a scratch?”
The small leafy foot of Baby Kale was unmarked, green and fresh as the garden of Eden. Larry vibrated momentarily and a coat of fresh goo slid over his compartmentalized form, squeezed from hidden pores like soap from a sponge.
“Naw, it appears to be in mighty fine health. Why don’t you come in for a glass of fertizade and be on your way?” Baby Kale bit his thin, green lip and his eyes swung towards the direction he was hurrying when he tumbled.
“I’ve got a floating lesson.” He squeaked worriedly.
“Oh my, with Miss Casserole? Don’t worry bout that now, she’ll understand. You can’t be expected to float after such a sting as you just received. Come inside and I’ll fix you right up.”
Larry pulled Baby Kale inside, his fat tail wagging. Baby Kale remembered that Larry always won the town fair’s fertizade contest and he figured he might as well enjoy some.
Baby Kale couldn’t help but gawk as he was pulled down the cement walkway. It was a fine home, one of the most presentable in the neighbourhood. Two-stories, the same as the others, but well taken-care of with fresh paint and dapper tiles on the ceiling. Despite the homes pristine freshness, it maintained a sense of being lived-in.
Larry held the door open for Baby Kale and ran a hand through his lustrous black hair.
“I need a glass too it seems,” Larry confided. “I worked up quite a sweat while tending the lawn.”
The front door opened into a kitchen which was just as lovely as the exterior. A brand new fridge-freezer rested in the corner, covered with letter magnets arranged to say “It’s a lovely day to be,” and other such bright-minded phrases.
Larry pulled up a cushioned chair to the table for Baby Kale to sit on.
“Nothing like a cold glass of ‘zade on a clear-blue day is there?” The worm smiled brightly and rooted through the fridge with his dull-beige spaghetti arms. Baby Kale saw that Larry’s fridge was well stocked with tall bags of fertilizer and dirt as well as the usual condiments: cow pies, pebble dust and seashells.
After scooping ice into a pitcher, Larry spooned in some fresh fertilizer, and then filled it up with water from the sink. Baby Kale salivated as his host stirred the drink. It looked to be an awfully good batch, dark brown and chilled to cold sweat.
Larry set the pitcher down on the table in front of Baby Kale along with a glass and winked at the plantling with a pale grey eye slit. “Pour yourself a glass, even two if you’re feelin’ gluttenous. I’ll be right back.” Larry slithered away, trailing a pile of ooze as he always did.
Baby Kale helped himself to a tall glass of fertizade and drank it quick. It made his head hurt from the cold so he scrunched his face to make it stop. Lacking the control to drink slowly, Baby Kale drank the punch in great, stuttering spurts. Chugging frantically and then holding a sprig to his pained head until the pain passed, at which point he would chug frantically once again.
“How’s the fertizade?” Larry asked as he re-entered the room. The worm closed the blinds.
“My but it’s delicious.” Baby Kale said through grit teeth and crunched eyes. “But so cold.”
Larry sat across from the little plant and clasped his hands together, patiently. He smiled crookedly and watched until the glass was empty.
“Gee, I’m awful thankful for the drink but I’d better get going. Miss Casserole’s going to have my hide.” Baby Kale stood to leave but stumbled. It was as if his head was full of shifting lead, confusing up for down and left for right. “Oh, I don’t feel so good.” Baby Kale mumbled as he fell on his back.
“It seems your fall was worse than we initially thought.” Larry stood above him, glistening. A thin, pale tongue ran across the thin lips of his mouth.
Baby Kale’s leaf-hands fluttered before darkness took him.
When the fog lifted, Baby Kale opened his eyes. His pupils retracted beneath the sharp cut of fluorescent lights. Trying to sit up, he found his leafy arms were bound to the surface beneath his back. He was lying on something hard, smooth, and mostly white, though Baby Kale couldn’t see much of it with his head held taut by unseen bonds.
Someone was busy nearby, just beyond eyesight, and they were humming. A melodious little tune that was decidedly cheery. Besides the diddy, the only sound to Baby Kale’s ears was the clinking and clanking of some unknown instruments.
“Larry?” Baby Kale called weakly, trying to shift to a more comfortable position but unable to do so.
The humming grew closer as a peculiar rumbling did, like plastic wheels on hard floor. Larry’s face loomed over Baby Kale and the worm smiled kindly.
“Baby Kale, so glad you could stay for dinner.”
“W-What are you doing?” Baby Kale’s head felt like he’d been dried out by sun and stepped on by a big rubber boot.
“At the moment, I’m preparing the dressing.” Larry called melodiously, before breaking back into his hum. There was a strong smell in the air now that the worm was closer. It was oily and tart. Larry began singing in the same tune he had been humming.
“We take the – the lemon juice.” He mumbled as the sound of shifting liquid filled Baby Kale’s ears. “For a little hour of sour. Then the apple vinegar. Cause it’s so nice and sharp.” Liquid glugged as it poured from a bottle behind Baby Kale’s head.
“Oil from an olive, for the body rich.”
Something cold and slick poured on Baby Kale made him quiver violently.
“AUUGH stop it.”
“Positively gorgeous.” The worm broke into a British accent, standing just out of sight. “Terrifically wonderful. Say, Baby Kale?” Larry leaned over the young plantling, petting him. “Is it more partial to cucumber or tomatoes?”
Baby Kale’s eyes widened. “Well, I have a few tomato friends at school, but my cousin Carl is a cucumber.”
Larry ran a slimy finger down Baby Kale’s shoulder, and sampled some of the liquid he had just poured. He closed his eyes, savouring the taste and then smacked his lips. “We don’t have all day boy, which one do you prefer?”
“I don’t know.” Baby Kale wailed.
“If someone had a weed wacker to your head, and you could only choose one, which would it be?”
Larry’s eyes protruded from his head and his smile grew toothy. “Lovely.”
Then he was away and out of sight again, humming and clink-clanking away with unseen instruments.
“Mr. Larry.” Baby Kale called. “I want to go home.”
A small chuckle from the worm but no answer.
There was no answer again, just the humming, more vibrant and building to a crescendo.
“And I present to our honourable panel of judges,” Larry intoned in a voice that was not his own for it seemed more suited to a radio announcer covering a grand sporting event, “a delicacy to end all delicacies. A Baby Kale salad with cherry tomatoes, topped with olive oil, lemon dressing and finished with an apple cider vinegar reduction.”
With the final word, Larry flipped a bowl over Baby Kale and he was smothered with dark, wet pieces of pulp. The plantling opened his mouth to scream when it was abruptly filled with juicy tomato.
Baby Kale spat the the bits into the air. Streaks of red juice dribbled down his chin.
“I feel it would be unfair to both you and myself if this masterful creation went unseen by eyes but my own. I’m sorry it had to be you but, when an opportunity presents itself…”
Larry raised a mirror above Baby Kale and the plantling lost any semblance of calm he had remaining. He broke his stems trying to escape from the bonds that he could now see were rubber bands.
Baby Kale was tied to a plate. White, round porcelain. The diced remains of young tomatoes he knew – his friends – covered his green leafiness. Tommy, Tim, Tara, Taylor. They were all dead and he was wearing them like a blanket. The mirror went away.
Larry leaned over Baby Kale and the young plant saw for the first time the instruments from before. A long, sharpened salad fork with menacing tines protruded from his right hand and a cruel, curved butter knife hung from his other.
“Bon appetite, Baby Kale.”
The sun was out so, earlier in the day, Larry carried a folding chair from the shed and placed it on the front lawn. The freshly mowed grass enhanced his sense of enjoyment. A glass of cold fertizade cooled the palm of his sinewy hand and he sipped it tenderly.
George the paper boy whizzed by on a bike and threw a copy of the day’s print onto Larry’s lawn, an arm’s reach from the chair.
“Your aim gets better every day.” Larry called and George raised a fist in recognition. After a long sip and an easy sigh, Larry put down his glass and scooped up the paper. He rolled the band off and held it aloft. The front page read: “Day ten in the search for missing plantlings.” Beneath, the Chief of Police, Leeroy Leek promised the municipality that he would drudge through dirt to find them and that the station had planted the seeds of investigation.
“Mr. Larry?” A small voice asked and the worm lowered the paper from view. A small, smiling head of romaine smiled back. “It’s awful hot out, could I have some fertizade? Please.”
Larry was on his tail in less than a second. “How can I resist such a sweet request? Come on in, make yourself at home.”