by Jenny Moore

It began with a blessing.

“May you grow forever and never die, for the good you have done our people,” a wise man of long ago whispered to a few seeds.  They were squash seeds and those squash had supported the tribe through a harsh winter.  The wise man felt that they deserved a blessing.  The seeds must have thought so too, because they listened.

Several thousand years later, Rob bumped into the last wise man of that long ago tribe.  This wise man did not remember the harsh winter or the blessing of the seeds, but he knew words of power that had been handed down from wise man to wise man for generations, and he still carried the sacred squash seeds with him wherever he went.  As Rob stumbled into him, the seeds scattered across the sidewalk.

“Curses!” Rob said.  “Watch where you’re going!”  He scrabbled up a handful of seeds.

“What’re these?”

The old man spluttered angrily.

Rob grinned.  It was nice to know that he wasn’t the only one who was mad at the world.  “I guess I’ll keep them.”  He shoved the seeds into his pocket.

The old man found his voice at last.  “May your ears turn green and your tongue emerald!” he snarled.  “May those seeds bring a shadow to your house!”

Kind of a crazy old man, Rob thought, watching him stomp away.  Rob didn’t really want the seeds—he’d just been giving the old man a hard time—but he took them home anyway.  Maybe Dad could plant them in the garden.

Dad was on the telephone when Rob slammed into the house.

“I brought you something!” Rob yelled, dumping the seeds on the table.  It was Mom on the other end of the line.  He could tell from the look on Dad’s face.  A divorce was in the works, and Dad and Mom spent a lot of time shouting at each other.

“Mind your manners!” Dad snapped at Rob.  “I’m talking!”

“Whatever.”  As far as Rob was concerned, the world was not a polite place.  He didn’t see why he should be polite, either.

Dad did plant the seeds, though.  He always went into the garden to cool off after a shouting match and this time, he took the seeds with him.

That evening, Rob’s tongue and ears turned green.

“Weird!” his sister Letty said.  “Wait until they see you at school!”

“Curses!” Rob said.  “If you tell anyone about this, Letty, I’ll—I’ll”—He didn’t know what he’d do.  Letty was the one person who didn’t care how rude Rob was, just like Rob didn’t care how many times Letty ran away.

He ended up borrowing Letty’s earmuffs, and practiced talking without showing his tongue.

“What’s with the earmuffs?” Dad asked.

“New style,” Rob said coldly, keeping his green tongue behind his teeth.

“Have you seen those squash I planted?” Dad said.  Working in the garden always put him in a good mood.  “They’re starting to grow already!”

Rob looked at the tiny plants poking out of the soil.  “Did you say something?” he asked Letty.

She shook her head.  “Why?”

“No reason.”  Rob did not like to say that he could hear voices.  Whispering, rustling voices.  Hearing voices was definitely not a good thing.

The squash grew and grew.  In two days, the plants had covered the garden.  In four days, leaves were creeping over the windows and vine tendrils were spilling into the street.

On Saturday, Mom came around to yell at Dad in person.  Rob stayed to see if he could pick up some of the finer points of rudeness but Letty disappeared in the direction of the garden.  Rob wondered if she was running away again, but maybe she was just going to play in the squash.

Letty didn’t come back, even when the yelling was over.  Suppertime came and she still wasn’t back.  Definitely run away again, Rob thought as Dad sent him out to search the garden.

The voices whispered in his ears again.  They had a green and growing sound.  Rob ignored them.  “Letty!” he called.  “Where are you?”

A muffled shout answered him.  “These plants won’t let me out!”  Some leaves in the center of the garden shook wildly as if someone was hitting them.  “I was going to build a fort in here and now, I’m stuck!”

“Oh, curses!”  Rob stared at the garden through narrowed eyes.  The squash plants were huge and tangled but he thought he could handle them.  “Just a minute.”  He went to the garden shed and dug out Dad’s pruning shears.  The shears were rusty but still sharp enough to chop off some of the shovel-sized leaves.  Rob waded through waist-deep foliage until he got near the center of the garden.  When he couldn’t go any farther, he started chopping.

Nothing happened.

That is, nothing much happened.  The leaves twisted and grew back onto their stems as good as new.  The voices got louder, almost like he was being shouted at by a bunch of plants.

That was all.

Rob chopped and chopped and got madder and madder.  Finally, he threw the shears aside, and thought.

All that thinking resulted in Rob going back to the shed for a shovel.  Maybe he could dig a tunnel under the plants.

The squash had other ideas.  Scarcely had Rob begun to dig when branches grabbed his hair and pulled him backwards.  The voices scolded him furiously.  They were definitely plant voices.  Rob’s green ears picked up every word they said, whether he wanted to or not.

“Just let my sister go!” Rob snarled finally.  Not that he was talking to the plants of course, because that would be silly, but snarling out loud made him feel better.  Still, he wasn’t prepared for the way his voice sounded.  Sort of damp and green.  He was so surprised that he bit his emerald tongue.

The plants were surprised too.  They curled back from him and whispers ran all through the garden.  “He talks to plants!  The unbelievably rude boy speaks our language!”

Rob tried to shut his ears again and clamp his lips shut but it was too late.  The plants could understand him and he could understand them.

A long vine slid up his face and tweaked his nose.  “Why do you want the little girl back?” it asked.  “She’s almost as rude as you are?”

“Good for her!” Rob snapped.  “She’s my sister!  Why are you kidnapping her, you big bullies?”

“That’s not very nice,” a large squash said.  “We were just playing with her.  We were going to let her go.”

“We’re bored!”  Other leafy voices joined in.  “Grow, grow!  That’s all we do, all day long!  We want someone to talk to!  Someone to listen to what we have to say!”

“Who wants to listen to a bunch of dumb plants?” Rob asked reasonably.  “Not me!  This is crazy!  I shouldn’t be able to hear you at all!”

“You’re obviously under a curse,” one of the squash said in a business-like voice.  “We know a thing or two about blessings and curses.  Have you offended a wise man lately?”

Unwillingly, Rob thought of the strange old man that he had bumped into.  The one who had turned his ears and his tongue green.  “Well,” he muttered.  “I might have been kind of rude to one”—

“Exactly,” boomed a large plant.  “You are a rude boy.  We will teach you manners and, in return, you will be our friend and talk to us!”

“And you can have your sister back,” a small sly plant murmured.

Rob was seriously beginning to regret laughing at the crazy old man and bringing home the handful of squash seeds.  “Oh, curs”—He stopped.  Maybe that wasn’t the best thing to say.  “If I’m rude, what are you?  You can’t blackmail people into being your friends!”

There was a rustling pause.  Rob could almost hear the little green minds thinking.  Finally, the biggest squash said, “In that case, we will have to teach each other good manners.  We can discuss it when we talk together.”

Rob opened and shut his mouth.  Finally, he gritted his teeth and said, “Please will you let my sister go?”

“See?” the squash said happily.  “You’re getting politer already!”

“And you still have to promise to talk to us every day,” the small plant said smugly.

Rob knew when he was beaten.  “Okay,” he growled.  “I promise.”

Instantly, a few vines untangled and Letty shot out of them as if she had been kicked.  She didn’t look very upset, though.  In fact, she stared at Rob in fascination.  “Can you really talk to them?” she asked.  “That is so cool!”

When Rob thought about it, he realized that it was kind of cool.  He wasn’t sure he liked the bit about being polite but then, the plants weren’t terribly polite either.  He brightened.  Maybe they could have some really good arguments!

And not everyone could say that a real, honest-to-goodness curse had been put on him.

From that day on, Rob could often be found in the garden.  Sometimes, Letty was there too, demanding translations of plant talk.  Sometimes, the conversations were painfully polite.  Sometimes, they were painfully rude.  Frequently, they were very boring.  The plants still had nothing to do but grow.  They crawled over the garden walls and spilled into the street where they stopped the traffic.  The neighbors complained.

“Try growing straight up,” Rob suggested.

The plants did.  They stretched and lifted, towering over the house, and the town, and the whole state.  Scientists were baffled and tourists drove by and gawked.

People spotted Rob now and then, climbing up the wildly tall squash plants.  He would find a comfortable branch to sit on, and talk and listen for hours.  Conversations were more interesting when you could see everything that happened for a hundred miles around.

As the divorce went through and the yelling died down, Rob frequently thought of the crazy old man who had put such a strange curse on him.  Probably it would be better to be nice to peculiar and possibly magical people in the future.  The plants kept telling him that.  It paid to be polite.  But on the other hand…

Curses weren’t as bad as all that!

© 2010 Jenny Moore.  All rights reserved. ______________________________________________


Jenny Moore is a member of the SCBWI.  Her stories have appeared in such publications as Cricket Magazine, Teach Kids, and Storystation.

Paul Gustave Doré (January 6, 1832 – January 23, 1883) was a French artist, engraver, illustrator, and sculptor.  He worked primarily with wood and steel engraving.  Doré's later works included Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Milton's Paradise Lost, Tennyson's The Idylls of the King, The Works of Thomas Hood, and The Divine Comedy. His work also appeared in the Illustrated London News. Doré continued to illustrate books until his death in Paris in 1883.