's 2018 Horror Write-off:

A Very Vegan Thanksgiving

Submitted by Jacob Roberts

Dirk limped up the cracked concrete steps and tapped on the door. Aunt Lydia’s small, raspy voice called out in reply. He wiped his shoes on the dusty welcome mat while he waited for his aunt to let him in. Hopefully she had prepared something edible this year, because he was starving.

Aunt Lydia and Uncle Robert’s house, like most homes on their street, was in poor condition. The roof sagged and long brown stains from rusted gutters streaked the face of the building. However, the unsightly outward appearance only obscured deeper structural problems. The house’s support beams had long ago been infested with carpenter ants and were rotting inside the walls. Of course, there was nothing to be done except wait for the ants to move on.

Aunt Lydia finally opened the door with a shriveled hand. It had been almost a year since Dirk had last seen her, but her translucent, wispy hair and papery skin made her look at least a decade older. Her voice quavered as she wished Dirk a happy Thanksgiving and ushered him inside.

“The others are waiting in the living room. Dinner will be ready momentarily,” she promised, before hobbling off to the kitchen.

Sure enough, there was Uncle Robert and the twins sitting silently on the dirty beige couch. Dirk’s little cousin Brian was playing on the floor with what appeared to be a strand of metal wire, and Brian’s parents were arguing by the window. Dirk’s niece Christine was showing her new baby to a friend of the family he vaguely recognized, and Grandma Bertha was scarfing down hors d'oeuvres in the corner. He winced at the thought of pretending to be interested in any of these peoples lives.

Uncle Robert spotted Dirk and waved him over excitedly. The skin on his hand was pulled taught over his bones. “So, Dirky boy, what have you been up to?”

“Oh, you know, same old,” said Dirk, trying to politely end the unavoidable recap conversation. He coughed, then wiped away the yellow spittle with his tattered sleeve.

“Done anything for Mother Nature lately? The twins and I picked garbage out of the creek last weekend. It’s much cleaner now! Isn’t that right boys?” He tried to tickle the twins playfully, but they stoically stared at the wall with deep-set eyes.

“Dinner’s ready!”

Dirk felt a pang of hunger shoot through his stomach and stopped himself from instinctively sprinting toward Aunt Lydia’s voice. Not that he could have anyway with the gangrene setting into his left foot.

Christine, Grandma Bertha, Brian, Brian’s parents, and the family friend whose name Dirk couldn’t remember stood up and shambled into the dining room, floorboards creaking under their weight. Uncle Robert followed after failing to rouse the twins.

The dinner table held a cornucopia of dishes. Dirk’s mouth watered at the sight of sweet potato casserole, honey-baked ham, grilled asparagus, two varieties of beet salad, and an enormous turkey with sausage-and-apple stuffing spilling out of it.

“You’ve truly outdone yourself this year, Lydia,” said Christine. She cradled her baby while gently tipping a bottle into its mouth. “I might even have to feed my little one some of your sweet potatoes!”

Aunt Lydia attempted to laugh, but ended up in a coughing fit. She waved off a proffered glass of water.

“Please, everyone, take a seat, but don’t serve yourselves yet. We need to go around the table and say what we’re thankful for.”

What a pointless tradition, Dirk thought as he sat down between Christine and Grandma Bertha. Every year people said the exact same thing. As if sensing his impatience, Aunt Lydia asked Dirk to begin. Dirk wanted to say he would be thankful to eat some damn food, but he bit his tongue. It tasted good.

“Obviously I am thankful for Mother Nature and all her creatures, no matter how small,” he recited. Everyone at the table nodded in unison. “And I’m thankful for being so close to family on such a wonderful holiday.” Dirk scrunched up his nose while speaking that last line; he couldn’t decide if Grandma Bertha or Christine’s baby smelled worse.

Uncle Robert went next. “I am thankful for Mother Nature and all her creatures, no matter how small,” he said, and everyone nodded again. He turned his head and shouted into the living room.

“Boys? Anything you’d like to add?”


“Ah, well, you all know they’re thankful too.”

Christine smiled. “Teenagers are so rebellious. I hope my little angel never goes through that phase. You won’t, will you, sweetie?” She nuzzled her baby with the tip of her blackened nose and Dirk tried not to gag.

After everyone had given their obligatory thanks, Dirk greedily slid a slab of sweet potatoes onto his plate and broke off a shard of turkey before passing it across the table. Brian eyed the bird skeptically.

“Is that real turkey?” he asked.

Brian’s father narrowed his eyes. “Of course not. You know it’s wrong to eat meat.”

“I guess,” Brian said, “but it never tastes right.”

“How dare you insult your Aunt Lydia’s cooking!” Brian’s mother reprimanded. “Apologize to her right now.”

Brian lowered his head of patchy hair and mumbled that he was sorry. Lydia pretended not to notice the exchange.

“You know,” said Uncle Robert, twiddling a stray flap of skin hanging off his chin, “if little Brian is having trouble with his Nature studies, I have some pamphlets that might help. It certainly helped our boys.” He turned his head and looked toward the twins in the other room. “Isn’t that right guys?” he shouted.

There was no response.

“That’s really not necessary,” said Brian’s mother.

“Oh, it’s no trouble at all. Lydia, honey, hand me that pile of pamphlets behind you.”

Aunt Lydia reached her bony arm across the table, joints popping, and gave a handful of dog-eared pamphlets to Uncle Robert, who paged through them until he found the one he was looking for.

“Here we go!” He leaned over and held the wrinkled pamphlet in front of Brian’s splotchy face. On the front was a picture of a young woman offering a handful of dark, loamy soil to a child.

“You see, humans used to be very naughty.” He turned to the first page, which showed a cartoon of a man decapitating a pig with a knife. Faded red blood ran out of the pig’s wound.

“Long ago we hurt and ate animals like this poor creature. But then, we realized our spot at the top of the food chain came with certain responsibilities. It was wrong of us to abuse our power by exploiting the weak.”

Uncle Robert turned to the next page. A photograph of a vast field of golden wheat sprawled across the paper.

“For a time, we ate only plants,” he continued. “Sometimes we ate plants that were fashioned to look like meat to satisfy our urges. But then Mother Nature revealed the truth to the prophet Ingrid. I’m sure you’ve heard of her in school.”

Dirk sighed and scratched an open sore on his face with brittle fingernails. Teachers had told him this story a million times when he was a kid. How long ago was that now? He couldn’t remember.

“Ingrid explained to us that Mother Nature was in pain, and that we should be her stewards,” said Uncle Robert. “Ever since that revelation, we have never harmed plants, animals, or even tiny insects. The best way to help Mother Nature is to stop eating organic material altogether, artificial or otherwise.”

He turned to the last page, which showed an image of a carrot being brutally skewered by a fork. Faded yellow juice pooled beneath it like blood. Then he flipped back to the cover and pointed to the picture of the dark soil being handed to a child.

“Now we eat only inorganic, alternative food, like this dirt, which is full of nutritious vitamins and minerals. You know the rhyme, right Brian? If it’s alive, help it thrive. Do not consume, or face your doom.

Brian shook his head. “I know that, I’m just hungry all the time.” He coughed, and black bile dribbled down his chin.

Brian’s father patted him on the back and laughed. “You just need to eat more, buddy. Here, have some beet salad.” He dropped a beet onto Brian’s plate. It bounced once and then landed with a dull thud. Brian gnawed at the plastic cube with his toothless gums.

“Well!” Christine interjected, trying to lighten the mood, “the asparagus looks fantastic.” She tried to pick one up with her fork but was barely able to scratch its iron coating. “So solid!”

Tired of listening to rehashed family drama, Dirk focused on eating his food. The turkey splintered pleasantly in his mouth as he bit into it. Clumps of dry sand from the stuffing trickled down the back of his throat. He peeled a few flakes of paint off the sweet potatoes and let them melt on his tongue. Everything tasted fine, but he was pretty sure the sand came from a can.
As he ate, he looked around the table at the smiling, skeletal faces of his family, wondering how many of these nitwits he would have to see at next year’s Thanksgiving. He covered his nose as Christine unwrapped her rotting baby and poured more liquid mercury down its lifeless throat. At least the twins couldn’t annoy him anymore; soon they would be just another layer of that disgusting couch.