Of all the chores Johnny's dad made him do around the house pulling weeds was the worst one.
He hated weeding. Always had. Getting dirt under the fingernails; the frustration when one refused to come out; cleaning up the piles; and worst of all: getting poked by thorns. He hated it all.
Resigning himself to his dirty, pile-laden, thorny destiny, Johnny grabbed a pair of gloves from the tool bench and trudged toward the backyard.
He wasn't sure if it was because of the recent rain or the fact that he never went in the yard anymore, but he stopped dead in his tracks when confronted by the veritable carpet of weeds. There were so many of them the flowers in the yard were nothing more than points of color sporadically dotting a green sea of weeds.
Johnny groaned. Any hopes he had of playing video games that afternoon were dashed like a feather in the wind.
As he walked toward the main flower bed that stretched across the width of the yard something caught his attention.
He stopped and turned to face it.
The weed was over four feet tall, sporting an array of spiny growths up and down its stalk and leaves that resembled distorted flappers. And to top it off was a red cap that faintly resembled a man's head. Fragile black spores bloomed along the edges and gave off an aroma like low tide.
Johnny recoiled in disgust. He was angry at the thing, although he knew it was irrational. He wouldn't be able to simply pull it out; it was far too big, with a stalk girth of at least two inches. He'd have to get the clippers and cut the thing out, and then douse the stump with weed killer and hope that would kill it.
With frustration dictating his movements Johnny snatched a pair of clippers from the toolshed and approached the weed. All around him smaller weeds sprouted up, making the big one stick out like a sore thumb. It looked like a mother towering over a vast sea of children, protecting them from would-be predators.
Johnny bent down and opened the clippers, positioning the rusty but still sharp blades around the base of the stalk. He then pressed the handles together, watching as the metal sliced into the plant, first halfway, and then clean through, allowing a thick white substance to ooze out.
The weed tipped over, falling with a leafy thud on the grass.
Johnny stared at it. It had been easier than he thought it would be to cut the weed, given its size, and now he could focus on the remaining work.
But first he needed a drink. A fresh glass of water would do the trick, just the ticket to give him the energy to finish the job.
He tossed the clippers on the ground and walked into the house.
When he came back Johnny noticed something: the weed was gone! Its roots still jutted up from the soil but the plant itself was nowhere to be seen.
Confusion swirled in his mind. He struggled for words. His eyes strained in an attempt to find any clues as to its whereabouts. He spun around, scanning the entire yard, but saw nothing.
Was he dreaming? Did he imagine the weed?
No, he saw the clippers on the ground and the white substance still on the blades. He had cut it, he was sure of it.
But what happened to it? Who would steal a weed?
Deciding to chalk it up to one of life's little mysteries Johnny pulled his jersey gloves out of his pocket, knelt on the ground, and began pulling the other weeds out.
A shadow fell over him then, blotting out the sun on his back. He turned, shielding his eyes, and through the hazy shimmer was able to see his father standing there.
The lack of response puzzled him, but not to the point of alarm. "I'm doing the weeding," he said, hoping that would be enough to please his father.
Still no reply though, only a vague figure looming over him in the hazy glare.
Johnny set the clippers down and got to his feet. He faced his father, hoping that he wasn't going to yell at him about something he did or didn't do.
When he came face-to-face with him Johnny quickly realized that it wasn't his dad.
He only saw a blur as something wrapped around his neck and pulled him into oblivion.
* * * *
"Johnny? Are you back here?"
Judith set her briefcase down and stepped into the backyard. She was tired from work and was in no mood for games. Apparently her husband Frank wasn't home, although she found his cell phone and wallet in the kitchen.
And now she couldn't find her son either.
She stepped onto the grass. A light breeze fluttered across her face, bringing with it a rancid aroma.
She began to panic. She couldn't find her husband or son, having no idea where they were.
A shadow fell across her back.
She turned, shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun.
"Frank? Is that you?
The weed, adapting to the shape of its latest victim, Johnny, lashed out a stalk, wrapping it around Judith's neck and quickly cutting off her supply of air. It would add her to its system, integrating the newfound sustenance into its body. Since it had been cut loose it was able to gather food much more easily. Being able to move about it could go after prey instead of waiting for prey to come close enough to subdue.
The weed expanded its main stalk, allowing Judith to slide down its gullet, digesting her as she went. The two previous meals it had that day were already dissolved so there was no problem in finding room for more.
The weed noticed the clippers on the ground. It slung a stalk out and snatched them up, studying them with a newly-formed rudimentary eyeball.
And then, turning toward its squirming brethren, the weed started the liberation.