Jason brings the idea to the bus stop without really meaning to, the way a kid brings a cold into a classroom before he’s got any symptoms. Pretty soon it’s catching.
My partner in crime—a wiry hellion with hair so blond it’s just a few shades shy of white—reaches into the pocket of his heavy jacket. A fox-sly smile traces his lips as his hand emerges, and then, lightning-quick, he slings a booger-green ball at me. I cringe as it strikes me in the shoulder, bouncing off my leather coat—at twelve years old, I’ve taken a liking to anything resembling rebellious heavy metal garb—then landing in the street, rolling over the yellow line. A passing car flattens it.
I’m puzzled by the bizarre splat on the pavement, and now I’m vulnerable. Jason is a buddy ’til the end, so he hurls a few more at me, pinging me off the side of the head. He doesn’t hold back, and those little bastards sting.
“Ah, shit,” I grunt, batting them away with my palm.
He’s grinning when he tosses the last one underhand, so I can snag it out of the air. It resembles a mini-cabbage about the size of a golf ball, its leaves wrapped around the leaves below them, which are wrapped around the leaves below those, so that it’s a hard little bio-weapon.
“What the hell is this?”
“Brussels sprouts. From my mom’s garden. She’s got like a thousand back there. They’re the grossest god damned things in world.” He spits to show his displeasure.
I pick a few off the ground and my eyes glimmer.
“Don’t even think about it, dude. I’ll kick your ass.”
“You couldn’t even.”
I whip a few back at him, close range this time, peppering his back as he ducks away. A Brussels Sprout war erupts, and we spend the next few minutes chasing each other around the bus stop—a sandy parking area nestled alongside the woods and the road—throwing, ducking, and deflecting, until the bus rattles up, propelled by farts of exhaust.
That’s the genesis. That’s when the idea starts to sprout, and as all good ideas do, it begins to take shape. It gains form. Soon, we’re smiling secretly, anticipating.
We bide our time until Jason’s mom and stepdad are out of the house for the day, and then we creep to the edge of Jason’s backyard where a steep embankment clustered with pines overlooks the road. We’re crafty and confident, dressing in the dark hues of the forest—militaristic greens and earthy browns—and we’re invisible. We’ve put some thought into this, there’s no denying that.
The swooshing sound of passing air drifts to our ears, and my heartbeat quickens. It’s a distant sound at first, and we can’t tell which way it’s coming from, so we wait and we listen, coiled and still. Seconds pass.
“Toward town,” Jason whispers.
“Yeah, dude, definitely toward town.”
I feel a tingling sensation way down deep in my middle, between my stomach and my balls, part fear and part . . . something else. Like I’ve finally worked up the sack to talk to Becky Wilson.
The sound resolves into the weird vacuum sucking of air that betrays an approaching car. Tires hum over pavement, barreling in our direction. A cherry-red sports car hurtles around the corner down the road, going way over the speed limit, before sliding into the straightaway. Just before it reaches us, we let loose our salvo.
Brussels sprouts—gross, perfect ammo—shoot from our hands. One-two-three-four-five! They pop against the metal body, loud enough that we squeal with glee when we hit it twice. The rest of our ammo peppers the road and goes rolling off into the ditch. The car slows hard and we tense, but after a moment it keeps on going. The guy probably thought they were falling acorns or something. He was really flying, so there was no way he could’ve seen us.
“That was friggin’ awesome!” I cackle madly, flicking a sprout at Jason.
He swats it down into the dirt, and he’s about to retaliate when we hear another car. This time it’s a minivan, and we’re fast learners. We nail that thing at least three times—thu-thunk-thunk!—and again, we hear the vehicle slow hard. But it doesn’t stop. It rolls on toward town after a few drums of my booming heartbeat.
This. Is. Rad.
We must nail about two dozen vehicles over the next hour, and a game begins to form. Tractor trailers are kind of cool because we can get three or four shots off each, and they’re so damn big we can’t miss unless we’re total dipshits. One point for every hit on one of those big bastards, two if we hit the cab, three if we nail the windshield; that’s the riskiest because a green meteorite the size of a golf ball might just get someone to stop. But not every vehicle is as big a target as one those trucks, so the smaller the vehicle, the more points the sprouts are worth. Bicyclists are a no-go; they can stop right there and then we’re really screwed—but we have a good laugh when some guy comes hauling ass down the road and swerves desperately around some of the sprouts that haven’t rolled away and are just hanging around the pavement. Dozens of irregular green globs are soon scattered both ways along the road from the embankment like spent shell casings, the veggies of our labor.
That night I stay for dinner, and when Jason’s mom comes in from the garden with an armload of vegetables, she comments to his stepdad that she could’ve sworn there were more brussels sprouts just a few days ago. Jason and I snicker. We can’t help it. Our voices go ignored. No surprise there.
“They’ll grow back in a week or so,” his stepdad replies, and then they’re talking about something else and so are we.
The thrill of it all teases me, gives me power over something I don’t understand, but yearn for. It was like playing army when I was a kid, but way more intense. Black-masked ideas grow from those little sprouts as I lie in bed at night, listening to my parents rumbling through the floorboards. Mom: crackling lightning. Dad: booming thunder. I cover my ears with my pillow to drown out the storm, thinking of those sprouts, the smell of pines, the thrill of coiled invisibility and the hush of Jason’s breath a few feet away.
We’re clever and cunning. We don’t wait a week. We don’t wait two. Three is the magic number, enough time for the sprouts to regrow and flourish. Enough time for a new wave of unsuspecting victims to hurtle down our road.
My life is changing, and little do I know, it’s forever . . .
Vlad V. is the author of The Button, Yorick, and Brachman’s Underworld. His novella “The Sleep Artist” was published in Insanity Tales, a collection of dark fiction, in October 2014 (Books & Boos Press). His most recent release is his novella “Float,” published in Insanity Tales II: The Sense of Fear in October 2015 (Books & Boos Press). His first kids’ book, The Moon is Dead!, was released in January 2015.
Vlad is also the founder and managing editor of The Storyside, a publishing collaborative dedicated to bringing the best in independent fiction to the market.
He is an editor, publishing consultant, freelance writer, and former newspaper correspondent for the Lowell Sun and Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise. Learn more about Vlad at www.TheVlad.net.
His books are available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple and Smashwords.com, as well as most bookstores.