A man sat at a wooden desk, mercilessly scribbling down letters and punctuation on a pad of paper that seemed to translate into words and ideas.
His name was Peter and he lived in a two-bedroom cabin with no windows.
A skinny man, that Peter had a scraggly bit of facial hair and a mop of brown hair that was beginning to turn grey. His favourite colours were red and brown, which were a big reason why he wore nothing but a red button-up sweater and brown corduroy pants. They were a comfort to him in a world that had begun to feel anything but.
The main door of the cabin led outside. Hardly used, that door was basically just for show at this point. A second door led to a room that used to be a bedroom. Now it houses rows and rows of potatoes, grown for consumption and reminiscent of a “living on Mars” type of situation.
Peter wrote at his desk beside his two best friends, eagerly awaiting the finished product. They shared a planter to the right of him, laying together, almost hand-in-hand. Harvey, the larger of the edible tubers, had a pair of sunglasses sharpied on the front of him with a wicked smile that almost looked like a young Tom Cruise in Top Gun. He also had a top-hat. To his left was his girlfriend. Delilah. She had dots for eyes and long, stringy hair. And a big nose. Too big. They were mature potatoes, two of Peter’s collection that he had grown fond of and would only ever eat in an emergency. Even then, he might choose death over tearing those two apart.
They sat and waited patiently for one more of Peter’s tall tales.
“Once upon a time, there lived a -” Peter stopped in his tracks and stared at the potatoes.
“What now?” He turned back to what he had wrote and glanced over it.
“’Once upon a time’ is a perfectly acceptable way of starting a story.” Peter turned back to them. “Do you feel as strongly about this too, Delilah? Harvey, you’ve turned her cold and rubbery. She used to love this stuff.”
Peter crumpled up the paper and threw it against the wall. He put his head in his hands and stood up, knocking the chair to the ground behind him.
“Why can’t you guys trust that I know what I’m doing here?”
He walked over to the rolled-up ball of paper and picked it up. On the bottom of the front door was a wooden plank that covered an old entrance that a dog might have used to get in and out of the home. A screwdriver and an oven mitt lay sprawled on the ground beside it. Picking up the screwdriver, Peter knelt down in front of the plank of wood and started to unscrew the corners. Once it was removed, he put on the oven mitt and grabbed the crumpled-up fairy tale with it. He took a deep breath and punched through the plastic covering of the old doggy door, pulling his arm back inside almost as fast. He dropped the empty mitt to the ground and shook his hand out like it spent a little too much time in the fire.
After screwing the wood back to the door, Peter picked the chair back up and took a seat at the desk once again.
“Okay, no more fairy tales then I guess.”
He picked up his pen and began writing some more, making grunting noises as he scribbled faster than before.
Then, a knock on the door.
He stayed very still.
He put down the pen and stood up.
Then silence from outside.
Peter turned back to his desk but a female voice echoed through his small cabin.
“Help me! Is there anybody in there? I need help.”
Peter stayed still, deciding between his moral compass and his own safety.
More knocks on the door.
“The air is tight! Please, I don’t have much time. I know somebody is in there! Please!”
Peter looked towards the potatoes for guidance.
“Seriously? Fine. If I die, that’s on you guys.”
The door is covered in locks. He reached into his pocket and produced a roll of keys and unlocked them. The knocking stopped when he unlocked the last one.
Peter backs slowly to the corner of the room and gets in the fetal position.
He yells. “It’s open!”
The air is still.
The door flung open and a man came barreling through, almost like he ran full sprint at the door, tackling it with no regard for his own body.
Peter walked slowly around the perimeter of his cabin. When he reached the open door, he tried to close it but it got caught on a foot. Alex, a teenaged girl, barged into the cabin and Peter closed the door behind her. She dropped down in front of the body.
“Thanks for opening your home to us, mister. It’s so scary out there.” Alex told Peter. She was the voice from outside.
Peter peered over Alex at the limp body on the ground.
“Is he going to be okay?”
“You know, you’re like a hero. You remind me a lot of my grandfather, and he fought in the war.”
“How old do you think I am?”
Alex turned to the body and gave it three solid pokes.
“Yeah. Jeff’s dead now. The air outside must have gotten him. Sad.”
Peter turned to the door and ran his finger along the crack until he got to the floor. Then, he put his finger to his nose and smelled it.
“Sour?” Alex asked as she had gotten up and started to admire the cabin around her.
“It’s true, then? I mean, of course I’ve always believed it was true but I’d be lying if I didn’t think there was a part of me that was a little bit-”
Peter turned his attention back to the body on his floor.
“What are we going to do with him? We can’t just go outside and give him a proper burial.”
Alex kneels down in front of Harriet and Delilah.
“How do you survive without going outside?”
A lightbulb went off in Peter’s head. He hopped over the body and ran over to the potato room.
“We can bury him here! That’s a great idea. I’m always looking for new ways to supplement my potato crop. It might get a bit stinky, but you know, that’s a sacrifice we’ll have to make.”
“Excuse me?” Alex seemed a bit turned off by the idea.
“Well, there’s nowhere else we can put him. Plus, with you living here now, I’m going to have to double my potato growth. It won’t be easy, but the decomposing body should really help.”
“Dude, you really are off your hinges. Jeff, let’s get out of here. Jokes over.” Alex stood up and walked back towards the door.
The previously limp Jeff got up and dusted himself off. Peter looked in horror as the dead body rose up, gave him a dirty look, then walked ever-so zombie like towards the planter with his two best friends in it. It felt like slow motion as Jeff pulled out Delilah and took a giant bite from her head, removing most of her hair and almost all of her face.
Then he spat her out.
Just like that, an innocent life lost.
Peter felt rage like he hadn’t felt in a long time. His hands balled into fists which caught Jeff off guard. Scared, Jeff sprinted for the door. Alex opened it first, but Jeff barreled through it much like he entered the house, and finally the door exploded off the hinges.
Jeff stopped when he got outside and turned around.
“What are you going to do, old man? You can’t touch me outside!”
Peter sprinted through the open door at Jeff, catching him off guard. Jeff tossed Delilah to the ground, turned around and ran towards Alex, who stood at a tree which held their bikes.
“There’s no time. Go!” Jeff signaled for Alex to get out of there and she jumped on her bike and rode away. Jeff ran past his bike, not bothering to stop and deciding it was faster to travel on foot then risk being mauled by this crazy cabin man.
Peter didn’t follow Jeff to the tree and down the road, instead he stopped at the decapitated body of his dear Delilah. He held her up, the insides still glistening from Jeff’s rabid saliva.
He noticed the sunlight hitting the potato in a certain way and realized where he was and what he had done. Peter collapsed to the ground and clutched his throat, letting the thin and poisonous air suck the last bit of life out of him.
Except that didn’t happen.
Instead, nothing happened.
Peter stopped writhing around on the ground and stood up. With Delilah in his hand, he walked over to the tree by Jeff’s bike and dug a hole. He placed her inside and said something quietly before covering her up and jumping on Jeff’s bike.
Peter hadn’t ridden a bike since he was a little boy but, in this instance, he felt that it was a lot like riding a bike. One pedal after another, and he was gone. The wind ripped through his almost-greying hair as he sped down the uneven pavement, the air not destroying his skin and his lungs as he had feared just minutes ago.
Peter headed to the grocery store. An odd place for the first destination after finding out that an actual apocalypse hadn’t occurred, but if there is one thing Peter knew, it was that there was now a tuber-sized hole in his heart that he needed to fill as soon as possible.
He parked the bike against the building and walked in to the air-conditioned store. People looked at him weird and it wasn’t just because he had the smell of a man who hadn’t bathed in a good while. The red buttoned-up sweater and brown corduroy pants seemed to rub people the wrong way.
“What an interesting combination,” said one elderly man.
Peter made his way to the produce section, and more specifically, to the edible tubers. There was a beautiful row of yams on his left and a beautiful row of sweet potatoes on his right. Peter stood in the middle and picked up one kind in each hand. The yam, with its holes, bruises and other imperfections, versus the sweet potato, which looks nothing like an actual potato and actually more like a yam. Is there a difference? Since Peter knew he had many things that identified as a potato at home, the decision was easy.
Back in the cabin, the door was wide open. Well, more literally, the door was still off the hinges and he had no choice but to live with it open for now. The fresh air was a nice change of pace for him, though.
Peter sat at his desk, scribbling away with his pen on a pad of paper. To the right of him in the planter was Harvey the potato, looking like the love of his life wasn’t just ripped from his grasp too early into their love affair. Beside him was his new roommate, Delilah 2. An imperfect yam with sharpied on hair and a nose even bigger than the last one. Although they had known each other for only a few hours. Peter knew that they would eventually fall in love and start their own family of tiny edible tubers.
He stopped scribbling on his paper and cleared his throat.
“Are you ready for a new one?”
“Okay, okay. Good. Okay. Once upon a time, there lived a man in a cabin. He-” Peter stopped abruptly and stared at the potato and the yam. “But she’s new! She’s never heard a story like that before. Seriously? This took me forever. Fine.” He crumpled up the paper and stood up aggressively from his chair.
Peter walked to the open door and added it to the pile of other crumpled up stories that he had tossed aside in the past.
Then he walked back to his desk and sat down.