It was Sunday, 6:30 P.M. Irving Zitkin, seven-year old hamburger and cookie eater, sat at the dinner table staring at his vegetables, hoping they would disappear. Then he made a face. Only for a second; but long enough for Mrs. Zitkin to see.

Violet Zitkin, mother, housewife and saint, frowned and sighed helplessly. "Darling," she purred, "Please eat your vegetables. Don’t you want to grow strong, healthy and... handsome like your father?" Harold Zitkin beamed from behind his newspaper.

She reminded Irving how lucky he was to have a mother who cared about what he ate. "How about eating just a little bit?" she persisted. "Vegetables are so-o- good for you!" Irving shook his head defiantly.

"That’s it!" Violet muttered between clamped teeth, "Harold!"

Harold Zitkin, father, local greengrocer and diplomat slowly lowered his Garden Variety journal. He also loved his son but preferred peace at the dinner table. "Irving," Harold offered reasonably, "How do you know you won’t like them unless you try?" The stubborn seven-year old looked to the ceiling for support.

"I mean, aren’t you even curious to know what they taste like?" his father went on. "Nope." Irving pouted. "They look disgusting. My tongue might shrivel and fall off!"

"Well, son; vegetables are not there just to decorate your plate," Harold said sternly, shaking a stringbean shaped finger at Irving. "So stop this funny business and eat your vegetables! NOW!"

Irving smirked and proceeded to push the vegetables around his plate, arranging his peas, corn, broccoli and diced carrots so they spelled out his name.

"I’d really rather have another hamburger instead of these stupid vegetables," Irving shrugged indifferently, still testing his mother’s patience. "Irving!" Violet Zitkin begged. "Please!" Suddenly, Irving decided he’d had enough nagging.

Jumping up, he shoved back his chair and headed for the garbage can, plate in hand. The Zitkins watched in shock as their son savagely dumped his vegetables into the trash, shouting, "That’s it! I’m never going to eat these yucky things for anybody again!" Tossing his plate (fortunately it was plastic) into the sink, he turned to face his parents with an innocent smile. "So what’s for dessert?" he cooed, eyeing the plate of chocolate chip cookies on the counter.

Quickly recovering their wits, the Zitkins glared at their son. "Dessert? We don’t THINK so, young man." they grumbled in unison. Disappointed and still hungry, Irving stomped upstairs and slammed his door. It was going to be a long night.

Kicking his way through piles of books and toys, Irving plopped onto his bed. "Well, I’ll just sneak down to the kitchen later and snag some of those cookies,"he vowed, giving in to a loud yawn. Soon however, his eyelids slid to half-mast, sinking fast. He didn’t see the dim bulb above his head flicker nor did he feel his bed lurch gently from side to side as the walls of his room slowly faded away...

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Awakened by soft breezes under a sunny green sky, Irving lay perfectly still and frowned, trying to figure out where he was. He reached a tentative hand towards the floor. It came up covered in some spicy, slimy stuff. "E-e-u-uw!," Irving gagged. Then he saw it. Out of the corner of his eye, a huge orange thing with green hair and strange root-like hands had sidled up to his bed. Terrified, Irving dived under his quilt. "Ma-a-a!" he wailed. No answer. Just a dry, crunchy chuckle. "Good Morning, Irving Zitkin." said the huge orange thing."We were wondering when you’d get here."

"Here?" Irving squeaked, dropping his quilt. "Where is here? and what are you?"

"Why, you’ve arrived at the Garden of Eating, you silly boy! Welcome to the first course! Then with a stiff bow, the orange thing introduced himself. "I am Corporal Carotte; follow me, if you please!"

Suddenly Irving realized he was talking to a giant carrot! He shut his eyes, muttering.. "This isn’t happening..."

"Oh, yes, it is," asserted the Corporal cheerfully. "King Bountiful has been expecting you."

Irving crawled out of his bed, stepping gingerly through the slimy salad dressing. "What does King Bountiful want with me?" he huffed, hurrying to keep up with his guide.

As they bounced through leafy green valleys, and waded through haystacks of shredded cheese., the Corporal sneered, "Well, my boy, it seems His Royal Vegginess is not thrilled with your treatment of his loyal subjects. You see, we veggiebeasts pride ourselves on our roles in maintaining the health of you ‘carnivorous types’ and we don’t take kindly to being wasted!" "

As they descended a hill of croutons, Irving gaped at the panorama ahead. Rolling, bouncing and slithering towards them were an army of giant vegetables! He saw retinues of radishes, bunches of brazen broccoli, swarms of sentient squash, and throngs of tumbling tomatoes which seemed to come from everywhere! Then Irving noticed the enormous potato creature marching towards them on his fat, gnarled roots.

King Bountiful, dressed in robes of ridicchio and romaine lettuce was crowned with a cornucopia of tiny vegetables. As he marched, His Royal Vegginess pointed an ornate rhubarb scepter in Irving’s direction!

"Ah, here he comes now. It looks like he means to teach you a lesson!" said the Corporal with a sinister smile. "I’d mind my manners, if I were you." The huge carrot bowed low until his fuzzy head greens swept the ground.

All at once, Irving understood. The King and his Veggiebeasts were going to get him for trashing his salad! They might even boil him in oil and vinegar! Desperately, young Zitkin tried to remember the way back to his bed as the ground began to shake! The Veggiebeasts were hot on his trail! With a frantic screech, Irving made a mad dash for anywhere but here! He’d better eat his vegetables before they ate him!

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At that moment he found himself back in his bed. "Yow, what a dream!". Irving sighed with relief. Then he smelled something suspicious. Turning over, Irving faced a steaming plate of vegetables left on his nightstand by his loving mother. He stared at them in annoyance and considered trashing them for a second time that evening.

Suddenly he heard someone shuffling up the steps to his room. "UH-oh!" Irving gasped, remembering King Bountiful and the Veggiebeasts. "I’d better not take any chances!" Frantically, he held his nose and shoveled spoonfuls of carrots, broccoli, green beans and potatoes into his mouth.

"Irving... are you allright?" came a concerned voice outside his door. Gulping down the last of the green beans, he mumbled, "Yeah, Ma. I’m fine. Sorry I made you upset."

"Oh, Irving; don’t worry about it," Violet Zitkin said with a smile in her voice. "How about getting ready for bed now? I’ll see you in the morning, OK?"

"OK...Um-m, Ma?" Irving called sheepishly, "I’m done with my dinner now."

"I know you are, ‘sweetheart’." came a dry, crunchy chuckle. "Yow!"Irving froze in terror. "Corporal Carotte’s come back for me!" Young Zitkin listened as the strange voice followed the shuffling footsteps down the stairs. Then softly, he tip-toed to his door, opening it just a crack...

But all Irving saw was a plate heaped high with chocolate chip cookies.

The End

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1995 Ilene Winn-Lederer