Spinach Man and Other Menagerie

1


“Welcome to The Greenhouse, children,” Dr. Reynoso said, leaning against the blurry glass siding of the building.

The Greenhouse. That wasn’t the name of where we were, at least, not officially. It was just a greenhouse, but Dr. Reynoso spoke of it in such a manner that to refer to it as anything other than The Greenhouse seemed wrong.

I smiled. “It’s an honor to be here, ma’am, I’m glad you could make time for us in your busy schedule.”

“Busy?” she laughed, “Child, I’m retired. If anything, it should be I who is honored to have you, or rather, your friend over here, wanting to interview me.”

“Well, you are a highly respected botanist, one of the leaders in the field, in fact, so how could I pass up the opportunity?” Danny asked, grinning.

Dr. Reynoso flapped her hand. “Yes, yes, but it’s been a few years since I’ve been that. I’m flattered. Now tell me, which magazine did you work for again?”

“Oh,” Dan fumbled with the strap of his messenger bag, using his other hand to wipe away the sweat accumulating on his forehead from the humidity—and nerves, “Flora and Fauna. Didn’t I mention that in my email?”

“Probably, but you know me, I’m an old lady. Tend to be forgetful at times!” she replied, her voice pitching up towards the end.

Dr. Reynoso smoothed back the frizzy strands of grey hair falling from her hasty bun and nudged her glasses farther up her nose. Tall and thin, but hunched over with age, she wrapped her dirt-stained lab coat tighter around herself—looking every bit like the mad scientist.

“And what about you, child?” she continued, turning her attention to me, “What inspired you to tag along with, ah— “

“Dan,” the aforementioned helpfully interjected.

“Yes, Dan,” Dr. Reynoso nodded.

I pursed my lips, holding in laughter. “I’m a graduate student, actually, in botany. When Dan told me about the interview, I knew I had to come with him.”

“How lovely,” she smiled widely, revealing yellowing teeth, “and your name is Margo, correct?”

I didn’t remember telling her that.

“Yes, but how did you know?” I answered, frowning.

“Oh! Young, ah, young­—Dan! Yes, young Dan here, he mentioned your name in his email, I believe.”

Dan’s mouth dropped open, and I sneaked a glance towards him while barely restraining my laughter. Dr. Reynoso had to be pulling Dan’s leg, or she really was mad.

“Well then,” Dr. Reynoso clapped her hands, “Shall we head inside?”

Not waiting for an answer, she rummaged in her pockets for a moment, before pulling out a rusty key. Dr. Reynoso then turned and fiddled with the lock until it came undone, and I heard the latch slide open. We waited for her to open the door, but she simply stood there, head turned down and muttering under her breath.

I shared a concerned look with Dan, but he only shrugged, silently motioning for me to do something.

Taking a hesitant step forward, I raised my hand to tap her on the shoulder. “Ma’am— “

She whipped around with a manic smile on her face. In her hand was a gun.

“I’m terribly sorry, children,” she laughed hysterically, “but it’s all in the name of science!”

That was the last thing I heard before everything went black.


2


When I came to, the first thought I had was that my head was pounding. God, what happened? Slowly, I tried to pry open my eyes, but the searing light burned, forcing me to squeeze them shut. Clearly, I’d best leave that for later.

The sun beat down upon me, and I felt alive. So alive, I had the wild impulse to dance around, sway and move my arms. Only, I couldn’t move. Frantically, I twisted my head back and forth, the only part I could. I opened my eyes, blinking rapidly to adjust to the brightness, and when my vision eventually cleared, I sincerely wished it hadn’t.

I was in The Greenhouse, that much was for certain. Frosted glass walls surrounded me, sunlight streaming in, and it would’ve felt wonderful, if not for the company that was with me. All around me, buried up to the neck in dirt (looking down, so was I, and I tried to scream but nothing came out) were heads. Human heads, to be precise. Most of them appeared to be sleeping, but some stared back at me and—oh God, their eyes. They were completely green, including the sclera. Squinting, I realized they were patterned. Almost like plant cells. I wasn’t sure that they even saw me because their eyes were glazed over, as if they’d been drugged.

I needed to get out of here, before I became just like the rest—if I wasn’t already. With monumental effort, I tugged my arms and legs, managing to free my arms and pull myself out of the dirt, before collapsing on the floor in a heap.

Scrambling up, I finally remembered I wasn’t alone. Dan. My eyes ran over each head sticking up from the compost, and then I saw it. Another disturbed patch of dirt, similar to mine. I dashed over, bare feet slapping against the floor. Skidding to a halt, I noticed a small plaque in front of where Dan must’ve been. It said Spinach.

Leaves crunched outside. My head whipped towards the door, and I realized it was open. I peered outside, wary that Dr. Reynoso was still around, but instead, there Dan was, with his back turned to me. Dark green veins ran all along his body—Spinach.

Stuck in that liminal space between humanity and monstrosity, I wanted to throw up. I couldn’t bring myself to look down at my body. I didn’t want to know.


The door slowly shut behind me as I stepped outside, and he spun around. I saw him, and he saw me, and in that moment of shame and fear, we both turned and silently walked away.