JUICE_

I Am To Juice What Mozart Is To Music
by Sean Adams

Which is why I am here, in this office, which is not so much an office but a kitchen, which is really not a kitchen but a room with three well-stocked fridges, a counter, and a blender that is called “professional grade,” though really it is of a much greater grade than professional grade, a grade not named due to the fact that it is available to only a select few in the juice industry: me, and those clamoring to be considered second best.

They contact me sometimes, these so-called peers—they call, and they email, and write letters, and they ask how do I do it, but I’ll never tell.

My employer is an international chain of juice bars headquartered outside the city where the suburbs meet the cornfields. Winter is only barely over, but a note on the counter from Mark, my assistant, tells me the higher-ups want me to start thinking ahead to October. My assignment: to create a juice that “evokes fall.”

I relate this to my date that night, Gwen, a hand model who we used in a magazine ad for our signature carrot juice—a hand model who could potentially be just a normal model given how wildly beautiful she is, though I can’t stop staring at her hands, because they are a special kind of wildly beautiful, whereas the wild beauty of the rest of her is really pretty run-of the-mill. My own looks could be categorized as “excessive,” as in: my looks exceed their necessary quotient to be alluring given my salary and skill level.

“What will you do?” Gwen asks.

“It will be easy,” I tell her. “There might be pumpkin, or there might be squash, or there might be apple, but there will definitely be nutmeg.”

Gwen considers this. “That doesn’t evoke fall,” she says. “That evokes fall drinks, fall foods, but not fall, not leaves changing color, not shortening days, crisp nights, sweaters. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed. We’ve been on three dates now and I was starting to get the idea that you were some sort of genius.”

We’ve only just gotten the appetizer, but I tell Gwen let’s take a rain check. Next week at my place?

“Did I say something wrong?” she asks.

“No,” I tell her, “you said the exact right thing.”

Then I excuse myself and retreat back to the office where I work all night, and when Mark arrives at seven in the morning, I tell him to clear my schedule. “I need to evoke fall,” I tell him, “the season, not the flavors.”

Mark nods and my meetings for the day disappear and by two in the afternoon, I have it, the most ambitious and risky juice I’ve ever made, a juice that should truly evoke fall, but I need test subjects, so I go searching for a tour. There’s one on the second floor, a group of fifteen school children, which is ideal, because they will make great long-term customers.

“I’ll take it from here,” I tell the tour guide, and we go up to my office, where I give them all samples of the juice and ask them: “What does it make you think of? Does it feel like winter anymore? Does it taste like Halloween?”

But they only whine and roll on the floor and clutch their stomachs in agony.

“Do you speak their language?” I ask the teacher.

“They speak English,” the teacher tells me. “I think they’re sick.”

“I want you to know, despite how this may seem, I value educators,” I say.

The teacher gives me a quizzical look and opens her mouth to speak, but before she can, security has her and she’s escorted out. I get Mark and tell him to call a pediatrician and also to order fifteen cots—the smallest kind he can find, because these are children, and my employer values frugality—and we spend the rest of the workday converting one of the conference rooms into an infirmary.

“I need to know what you put in that juice,” the pediatrician says, but I’ll never tell him, and so the children do not improve, not that night, not the next day, nor the day after that. Soon the story spreads and I can’t go anywhere in the whole city without being swarmed by the press, so I have Mark order me an air mattress and I decide to live in my office.

My cell phone rings. “I’m at your front door,” Gwen says, “and I’m holding a bottle of wine.”

I shiver to imagine her holding something. “You’re early,” I say. “It can’t be next week yet.”

“It is,” Gwen assures me. “Are you inside? Will you come to the door?”

“There’s a bit of an issue concerning my living situation at the moment,” I tell her, but before I can give her directions to my office the window behind me erupts into crystal snow as a man in khakis swings in on a rope, kicking the phone out of my hand and knocking me to the ground.

“We want to know what you fed our kids!” he shouts standing over me holding a tire iron, but I’ll never tell him, even when he threatens to crack my skull and looks intent on doing it. Luckily Mark arrives and knocks him over the head with a fire extinguisher. The man crumples to the ground as I get to my feet.

“It’s the parents,” Mark explains. “They’ve mobilized into a sort of militia and now they’re determined to take their kids back by force.”

“You can’t let them,” I say. “Not until each of the children is well enough to fill out a comments form.”

Mark nods solemnly and tells me, “I’ll go print those forms right now,” but he won’t, because at that moment four more khaki-clad men and women swing in the through the exploded window and take hold of him.

“Is this the guy?” one of the mothers asks.

“Run!” Mark yells to me, and he’s right, I should run, but I don’t like the precedent it would set if I let Mark start telling me what to do, so I count to three and then make the decision to run independently of outside input.

I run, through the halls and into the stairwell, tripping and tumbling down the last flight into the parking garage, where I find my car surrounded by a number of parents wielding hammers and golf clubs, and one even has one of those little shovels for taking ashes out of a fireplace. I turn and run in the other direction, deeper into the garage, and am nearly flattened by a large black van with tinted windows, which I flag down and find filled with six men and women who are all wearing white lab coats.

Hunched inside, I ask: “Are you with me or are you with the parents?”

“We’re with you,” says one of them. “We’re the scientists you selected to go on the expedition into the jungle, to search for the fruits and nutrients that remain elusive to western civilization.”

“Of course I know that,” I say. “And I’m here to come with you and lead the expedition.”

The scientists look at each other. “But we only have supplies for six of us,” one says.

I point at the most handsome male scientist. “You, give me your lab coat and get out.”

He does and a group of parents fall upon him immediately, giving us a chance to escape, and a wave of relief crashes over me that now I am safe, and moreover that now I am definitively the most handsome man in the van, and then later on the plane because it’s chartered just for us and luckily the pilots are ugly, and then later still in the jungle, because we see no one else, and also no trails, and soon we are lost and the rations have run out and we can’t find any way to call for help, not even with the special satellite phone we have.

The scientists are starving. I can tell by how loose and silly and big their lab coats look on them and also how they keep trying to eat the tent fabric. Finally, it is decided: we will draw straws and we will eat one scientist, and that scientist turns out to be me.

“Technically, I’m not a scientist,” I tell them.

“It doesn’t matter,” one of the scientists says.

“Also, I’m the most handsome,” I plead. I point to the second most handsome male scientist. “That’ll be your new most handsome scientist. That guy, right there. Are you sure you want to live in a world where that guy is the most handsome anything?”

“We are sure,” the scientists say in unison, though I can hear the second most handsome male scientist above the others. He has just awoken, it seems, to and been slightly revitalized by the idea of being a benchmark of good looks, something that he, unlike me, has never had to deal with.

“Wait,” I cry, before they can set upon me with their forks. “Give me one hour.”

They do, and I set into the jungle to forage. I find edible grasses and grubs and some berries and several roots and a fresh-water spring. I dig a hole and pour the ingredients in and using a sharp rock, I combine them into a juice. I fill our tin camping cups with it and pass them around, and the scientists drink and are restored.

“It tastes exactly like the pound cake my mother used to make for the bake sales my girl scout troop did,” one of the scientists says.

“That’s funny,” says another scientist, “because I was going to say that it tastes exactly like the pound cake my mother used to make for our church bake sales.”

The remaining scientists express a similar flavor profile, but when they compare recipes for pound cake, they find them to be very different.

“How can it taste like all of our childhood pound cakes when they vary so greatly in makeup?” one of the scientists asks.

“It taps into your memory,” I explain, and they want to know how, but I’ll never tell. Nobody seems to mind, though. In fact, everyone is joyous, even the second most handsome male scientist who was just on the cusp of being the most handsome male scientist, because he probably knows, deep down, that he doesn’t have what it takes to live that kind of life.

I make more juice the next morning, and that afternoon I take the satellite phone and the map and scale a nearby mountain until I get a signal and some idea of our location.

First, I call Mark.

“Where are you?” he whispers.

“Don’t worry about that. How is everything with the parents?”

“We managed to fight them off. But there’s something else. The children have grown stronger.”

“That’s great,” I say. “Then I can come home and find out what they think of the juice.”

“No, you don’t understand,” Mark hisses. “They’ve grown stronger. And stronger and stronger and stronger. They’re—” A crashing sound interrupts him, followed by a high-pitched roar like combative radio static. “Oh God! No! It’s the children! They’ve found me!” And the line goes dead.

Next, I call Gwen.

“Are you still at work?” she asks. “I’ve been worried about you. The things I’ve heard that are happening there, it’s very…” but she can’t find the word.

I assure her I’m safe. I say, “Here is my bank account number.” I say, “Here are my coordinates.” I say, “Find a way to get here. Things are only going to get worse there, and I love you.”

Back at the camp the scientists want to know where we should go now that we’re no longer starving, and I tell them, “Nowhere,” and we begin to build a small village. Gwen arrives several days later and wants to help, but her beautiful hands keep distracting everybody, so I am forced to make her mittens out of banana leaves. I ordain the second most handsome male scientist and he marries us. We live in the largest hut in the village and the scientists call me king, but I shake my head and say, “That’s not necessary. Please, call me Mr. Mayor.”

We manage to rig up the satellite phone to pick up far off radio signals, and in this way we hear news about the children, how they’re growing stronger and larger by the day and how they can’t be stopped and how they can’t be reasoned with, until eventually there is no news, only the emergency broadcast signal, and so we turn it off and the scientists put on plays. The stories they tell are all surprisingly erotic, and I’m glad all over again for kicking out that one really handsome scientist, because surely he would’ve wooed Gwen away by now had he been here.

One night, lying in bed, she asks, “Did you ever suspect this could happen, I mean with the children?”

“It was one of the risks I considered actually,” I say.

“What did you put in that juice?” she asks, and I tell her, and she says, “Why would you do that?” and I say, “To impress you.”

“If the children find us, what will we do?” Gwen asks. I assure her they won’t but she is obstinate in her concern: “What if they do, though? What if they grow so tall that they can see all of the Earth’s surface and one of them squints and points to our village and says, ‘there’?”

“You’ve got a point,” I admit, and I assure her I’ll think of something in the morning, some sort of contingency plan, and Gwen believes me and I believe me too.

 

Sean Adams lives in Des Moines, Iowa. His work has appeared in publications such as The Arkansas International, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. He’s currently working on a novel.

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