“Are you sure you’re supposed to get near that thing?” Sally asked.
Her brother, Jim, ignored her and hopped the fence into the strange garden. Right in the center stood a huge cactus. The only one he’d ever seen. He wanted to know how it could grow here, it wasn’t the right climate. The strange man that owned the house wouldn’t tell him a thing no matter how many times he asked. He was just told to stay away.
“I just want a closer look. I bet Stew it was fake. No way a cactus should grow here,” Jim said. He didn’t look back at Sally and crept closer. He weaved in and out of the other weird flowers in the garden, careful not to touch anything. Some of these beauties were bound to be poisonous. It was just the type of thing that man would do to keep intruders out. But Jim prided himself on being smarter than the average kid.
“Jim! I think he’s coming!”
“No way. I saw him head in to town ten minutes ago.” Jim stood right in front of the cactus now. He stared up at its great height and couldn’t help the feeling of awe that overtook him. But it was fake. Definitely. Had to be.
Jim stuck his hand out and pressed a single finger into one of the spines to test it.
“Young man! What do you think you are doing?”
Jim’s hand slipped and the spine punctured deep into his finger. The pain was immediate. It shot up his arm into his shoulder and his whole hand went numb seconds later. He spun around to see the man at the gate with his sister.
“I didn’t think you’d be here,” Jim said stupidly.
“Get out of my garden at once!”
Jim went back through the flowers. He felt clumsy and nearly fell into the purple ones with fangs. His hand swelled a little with each step and he had to bite his lip to hold his tears back.
“Let me see your hand,” the man said. Jim reluctantly held it out. “Tsk, tsk. I told you to keep away from my cactus.”
“What’s wrong with it?” Tears sprung to Jim’s eyes as the pain increased. He couldn’t feel his fingertips and the nails had turned purple.
“Well, you’ve been infected, young man. With a strange and deadly poison. It’s going to turn you into a purple balloon if you don’t get the antidote.”
“A purple balloon!” Sally clapped a hand over her mouth.
“Not literally, dear, but he sure will look like one. Minus the floating bit.”
“Do you have the antidote?” Jim asked.
“I have a bit. Not nearly enough to cure you, but it will at least slow the effects while you go get more.” The man turned Jim’s hand over and inspected the veins of his arms. He pushed his glasses back up his nose and dropped his hand. “Come along.”
Sally and Jim followed him into his house. Jim stared at his hand, swelling more by the second. And it had moved on to his arm now, his wrist puffing out and purpling.
“Mister, why do you keep that thing in your garden?”
“It’s Doctor, not mister,” the man corrected. “Dr. Roberts. And I have that cactus because I collected it from a faraway land and wanted to study its properties.”
“And you only have a little of the an’idote?” Sally asked.
“Well, I’ve had to use it while I work. I’ve been pricked once or twice myself.” Dr. Roberts rummaged through a desk near the window. “But there’s more out there, you’ll just have to go get it.”
“Why don’t you go get it?” Jim pouted.
Dr. Robert’s pursed his lips and looked down his nose at the children. “Young man, I warned you to stay out of my garden. More than once. You trespassed and got yourself hurt. I’m giving you the last of my own private stores to save your life. I don’t have to do this. You’d be getting what you deserved for not obeying if I just let it consume you. But I’m better than that. So, the least you can do, is go get more of the antidote. Enough to cure yourself and bring the extra back to me to use in my research.”
“Yes, sir.” Jim dropped his gaze.
“Here, drink this.”
Jim did as he was told. The swelling stopped and then receded. The purple diminished and his hand looked almost normal a few moments later.
“Now, here’s the map. Follow the trail marked here. The first stop is where you’ll find the fee. You need one large ostrich egg. You need to keep it warm the rest of your journey. In this cave you will come to a large lake. An octopus lives in the lake and he will come to the surface when you speak the words here, ‘Free me from this poison!’ You’ll give him the ostrich egg, and as long as it is the right temperature, the octopus will give you a large sack. The sack will contain huge purple mushrooms with orange spots. You can eat one of these mushrooms, and you’ll be cured. The rest, bring back to me so I can make more antidote.”
Jim and Sally’s mouths had both fallen open during his instructions. Dr. Robert held the map out to Jim. He reached out to take it with a shaking hand, but then Dr. Robert snatched it away.
“Just kidding.” He laughed so hard he had to double over to hold his stomach. “You’ll be fine within twenty-four hours with the antidote I already gave you. The look on your face, though!” He giggled. “That was payment enough for you trespassing on my property. I would never trust someone to go see that old octopus for me. He only trusts me, ya know.”
“Uh… Okay.” Jim dropped his gaze and Sally turned to smile at him.
“Told you to leave it alone, Jim.”
“And let this be a lesson to you, young man,” Dr. Robert continued. “Leave other people’s property alone when they tell you to stay away.”
“Now, get out of here.”
Jim and Sally ran through the house and out the door.