“Young man, you will eat all your peas before you leave this table.”
Dan’s lips pressed together. He shook his head. He pushed back against the table. His chair slid back.
His father stood behind, holding the chair in place. “You know the rules.”
Dan couldn’t say what he thought. He couldn’t let them know.
He’d taken a blood test and found out the truth.
“Oh, yeah,” Perkins had said, “Of course that’s why they insist on vegetables. It’s not like there’s any kind of nutritional value in celery, you know?”
Dan felt sweat bead on his forehead. He wrapped his arms around his chest, clamping his mouth tighter and tighter.
“Are you ok, honey?” His mom leaned over, concern in her eyes.
Dan shook his head, eyes squeezed shut.
“Maybe we should let him go to bed.”
Dad stood firm. “He’s just being dramatic. Dan, you need to finish your peas. Once you do that, you can go.”
“See? Take a look.” Perkins gestured to the microscope in the sixth-grade classroom. “That’s a normal asparagus plant.”
Dan squinted into the lens and gasped. Tiny monsters, like pigs with spider legs, scrambled all over the green surface.
“It’s a parasite, near as I can figure. And every adult is infected.”
Maybe if he made himself throw up all over the plate? They couldn’t make him eat the peas then.
How do you make yourself throw up?
Miranda talked about sticking her finger down her throat, but she was really gross and boney. He didn’t want to do that!
But maybe boney was better than eating the peas.
Could he do it without mom and dad noticing?
“Now look at this blood sample.”
Dan glanced around the lab. “How do you hide all this in the school?”
“Adults never notice what kids are doing unless it has something to do with the vegetables. Nothing matters except… well, look at this. It’s a sample from Mrs. Swildegaard.”
“How did you get that sample?”
“Never mind that. Take a look.”
Her blood was thick with the parasites.
Dan raised his finger to his mouth and succeeded in jabbing himself behind his tongue. He grunted in pain.
“What are you doing?” Now mom was standing. “Honey, I think he just tried to make himself throw up.”
Dad’s hands were on his shoulders now. “Son, you need to stop that. Now!” Dad’s hands were around his wrist, pulling down, away from his face. “They’re just peas! What’s going on?”
“It’s not worth the fight, Barry. Just let him go.”
Dan could picture his dad’s face. That stubborn prideful look. It wasn’t about what was best for Dan; it was about winning.
Of course, it never had been about what was best for Dan, had it?
Perkins showed him samples from every grade at the school. As children got older, they had more and more of the parasites. “I’ve noticed something. There seems to be some sort of tipping point, right around sixth or seventh grade for boys, a year or two earlier for girls. Once there’s enough of the parasites in the system, they take over, like you saw in the adult blood. And it seems to hinge…”
“On eating vegetables,” Dan finished. He took a shaky breath. “Check my blood.”
“You’re going to eat your peas, and you’re going to like it!” Dad spun the chair around. The wooden legs squeaked on the tile floor. “Hands down. Mouth open.”
As Perkins tested his blood, Dan pondered, “That’s why parents always push vegetables on us?”
The nerdy kid squinted into a microscope. “Yep. The parasites have taken over. That’s how they make sure they find new hosts.”
“My guess? The parasites never learned to survive in any other animals. Easier to take over plant matter? More testing is necessary.” He stood up from the microscope, a grim look on his face. “You’re on the threshold. If you have any more vegetables, it might send you over. Then you’ll be one of them.”
Dan stared at his father.
Moment of truth.
“I know about the parasites.”
Dad lowered the spoon heaped with peas. “What?”
“I know all about them. How you force kids to eat their vegetables to breed them.”
Mom laughed. “That’s ridiculous. We make you eat your vegetables because it’s healthy!”
Dad shook his head. “Sandy, it’s no use. He knows. Look at that face. Well, he thinks he knows.” He grunted. “Well, might as well tell you. They’re not parasites. They’re mind control agents. Good children eat their vegetables, remember?”
Dan’s mouth dropped open in shock.
Dad shoved the spoon in. Peas tumbled down Dan’s gullet.
He sat up.
Dad smiled. “Now eat your vegetables. You like them.”
“I sure do, dad!” Dan turned and spooned another helping onto his plate. What was he thinking? Peas were the best things to eat, ever!
This is a book no one should probably write.