Al brought in the last of the stock from outside the shop. He pulled down the metal shutter almost all the way to the ground, leaving enough of a gap for him to get through when he had finished closing up his greengrocery. He emptied the contents of the till into a bank bag and wondered yet again how long he could keep his business going. People were in the habit of getting their fresh fruit and vegetables from the supermarkets now, the supermarkets that could always beat him where prices were concerned but never in taste – he was certain of that. His produce always tasted better; surely that was worth a few extra pennies?
He secured the bank bag in the safe in the back room and switched off the lights.
“Don’t!” said a tiny voice. Al froze. There’s someone in the shop!
“Hello?” he called out to the shadows. “We’re closed.”
“Don’t go!” said the voice, high-pitched and pleading.
“Who’s there?” Al grabbed a nearby cucumber as a potential weapon.
“It’s only me,” said the voice. “Over here by the carrots.”
Al stepped towards the mirrored shelves with caution.
Al peered closely at the shelves. All he could see were courgettes, aubergines and squashes.
“It’s me,” said one of the butternut squashes. It jumped up. Al shrank back. He rubbed his eyes. This couldn’t be happening! It was not happening!
“I know you’re worried about the shop,” the butternut squash continued to squeak. “Let me help you. We’ll all help you, won’t we, guys?”
“Yay!” the vegetables all cheered in unison.
Al backed away and collided with his display of nuts, seeds and spices.
“We can sing and we can dance! People will come from miles around. You’ll be famous.”
“No, no!” Al gibbered, trying to cling to his sanity.
“We’ll make you rich beyond your wildest dreams!” the butternut squash promised.
“No! No!” Al sank to the floor. He saw how it would pan out. If he wasn’t carted away to the funny farm, if it really was true that he had a shopful of talking vegetables, he would be famous, to be sure. But he would also lose his best customers: the vegetarians and vegans. There was no way they were going to chop up and cook sentient produce.
He scrambled across the floor and rolled through the gap under the shutter. He fumbled in his pocket for his cigarette lighter – he knew it was a filthy habit but what with the stress of running his own business… He tore off his apron and set it on fire. He tossed the burning cloth into the shop, pulled the shutter down and padlocked it. The flames quickly took hold. Al began to laugh; the insurance pay-out would solve all his money worries.
Now, if only he could press his hands over his ears tight enough to block out all the tiny screams.