“Would you like a sample?” she chirps.
“No, thank you”, I replied to the cheerful lady in the kiosk at the grocery store. She wore disposable, plastic gloves and a hair-net and had a name tag pinned to her chest. On the counter before her was an array of cubed food — I don’t know what, really, maybe chicken — impaled with toothpicks.
“You sure?” she asks, waving her hands over the selection as if revealing a prize on The Price is Right. “They’re Pumpkin-Spice!”
“No. I don’t really care for Pumpkin-Spice. Thank you, though”.
The lady’s face momentarily freezes as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice-cold water over her head, then the smile drains from her face. Her eyes turn black and seem to shrivel to pea-size in her head. Her jaw drops open and her tongue — hideously long and obscenely gray — spools out of her mouth.
“I…said…it’s…Pumpkin…Spice. Eat…one. Eat…one…NOW!” she commands in a voice much different from the one she greeted me with. It is low and guttural and alien to the ear as if not meant for humans to hear.
I back away, horrified, almost colliding with the woman behind me. With her is a small boy of 8 or 9.
Mumbling an apology, I hurriedly move away, but not before hearing the lady in the kiosk inform the woman with the child that I don’t like Pumpkin-Spice.
The woman shrieks in horror; the small boy begins to cry.
“What’s wrong with you, you monster?!? Look what you’ve done to my son! How can you not like Pumpkin-Spice?!?” the woman, her face a mask of mortification, screams at me as she protectively shoves the boy behind her.
I look over my shoulder to see a crowd has gathered. The store manager appears and has an urgent, whispered conference with the kiosk-lady. She points to me.
“That’s him! That’s him!” she cries. “That’s the man — the trash — who doesn’t like Pumpkin-Spice!”
The crowd of shoppers turns as one in my direction. There is disbelief on their faces, and disgust. An old man riding a motorized shopping cart glares at me, his mouth twisted in loathing. He turns his head and spits. The woman beside him clutches the cross hanging from the gold chain around her neck. She closes her eyes and begins to pray. Another man wobbles on his feet, and then faints to the floor. A young girl points her Pumpkin-Spice smart phone at me to live-stream the incident on Pumpkin-Spice social media.
“You’re sick!” someone screams. “Everybody likes Pumpkin-Spice! It’s the new normal — along with Christmas commercials in September — that signifies the beginning of the holiday season in our country! Only crazy people don’t like the taste of an innocent flavor forced upon us by faceless corporations and designed to evoke memories of idyllic, childhood holidays that never really existed! Why do you hate America?!? Why do you hate Thanksgiving and Christmas?!? Get him!”
The crowd surges forward.
I turn and run.
I run down the aisles shelved with Pumpkin-Spice tuna and Pumpkin-Spice olives and Pumpkin-Spice, disposable forks. Speeding past, from the corners of my eyes, I see Pumpkin-Spice dog food and Pumpkin-Spice, double-A batteries and Pumpkin-Spice, 24-hour deodorant. There is Pumpkin-Spice toilet paper in the store, and Pumpkin-Spice extra virgin olive oil, and Pumpkin-Spice, cage-free organic eggs, and Pumpkin-Spice, charcoal briquettes.
My eyes tear up and begin to sting a bit as — even as I am running for my life — I accept, then begin to mourn, the fact our great country has fallen into a pit of Pumpkin-Spice insanity from which there seems to be no escape. I imagine a frightful future of a country lorded over by the Pumpkin-Spice elite — a race of orange-skinned people genetically manipulated to reek of cinnamon and clove. I imagine 365 days a year forced to ingest the cloying tastes of all-spice and nutmeg and ginger. I imagine having to forever live the lie of pretending I actually like pumpkin pie.
I gag at the thought, but keep running.
There is no escape, though, and my flight ends in the produce section next to the Pumpkin-Spice arugula and the Pumpkin-Spice sun-dried tomatoes. In front of me are four men dressed in black suits with skinny black ties and shiny black shoes. Their eyes are hidden by black Ray-Bans and their skin is tinged … orange.
I snatch up a stalk of Pumpkin-Spice celery and point it at the four men.
“Don’t make me use this!” I cry.
One orange man — the leader, I suppose — smiles at me then raises his hands in a calming gesture.
“Shhh … it’s all right, friend,” he murmurs, moving closer. “Calm down, now. This is still a free country, and no one is going to make you eat or use any product enhanced by Pumpkin-Spice … as sad as it makes me to think you’ll never experience the delight of having the mingled flavors of nutmeg and clove and cinnamon and ginger and all-spice dance across your tongue. So sad.”
“You got that right!” I yell, waving the stalk of celery threateningly as I back away. “No one will ever … EVER … make me buy anything with Pumpkin-Spice in it! NO WAY!”
“That’s what they all say,” someone whispers triumphantly in my ear just before I feel the sting of a needle entering my neck and the cold flush of something entering my veins.
The light hurts my eyes when I awake in my easy chair back at home, and my head throbs a little bit, but, still, I feel refreshed and rested in my easy chair from my Saturday-afternoon nap … even after experiencing such a horrible dream. The side of my neck is sore and I touch it, wincing, and there is a spot of blood on my finger — my oddly orange finger — when I remove it.
I’ll worry about it later, I decide.
As for now, I have to immediately get to the hardware store and pick up some Pumpkin-Spice drywall screws and a roll of Pumpkin-Spice duct tape.
I don’t know why.