David Steffen

David Steffen is a writer, editor, and software engineer living in Minnesota. He runs the Submission Grinder (http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/), a free web tool for writers to track their submissiona and find new markets for their work. He edits the zine Diabolical Plots (http://www.diabolicalplots.com/) which began publishing fiction in 2015. He is also the editor of the Long List Anthology: More Stories from the Hugo Award Nomination List (http://www.diabolicalplots.com/books/).

David Steffen is a writer, editor, and software engineer living in Minnesota. He runs the Submission Grinder (http://thegrinder.diabolicalplots.com/), a free web tool for writers to track their submissiona and find new markets for their work. He edits the zine Diabolical Plots (http://www.diabolicalplots.com/) which began publishing fiction in 2015. He is also the editor of the Long List Anthology: More Stories from the Hugo Award Nomination List (http://www.diabolicalplots.com/books/).

Morfi

Sightings of the magical morfi fruit are exceedingly rare. Some say it only grows on the tip-top of the tallest peak in the Himalayas. Others say it grows on the red-hot rim of volcanoes, just after the lava has receded. Even others say it will only grow inside the stomach of a live crocodile and must be plucked while the beast is still alive, or it will shrivel and harden like a cherry pit. None of these places are likely to be visited by a ten year old boy, but somehow Johnny Dawson found a morfi and brought it to class as a gift for his teacher. He won’t tell me where he found it, and I’ve been his best friend for many years.

Everyone has their own theories about what happened the day he brought the fruit. I saw most of it myself, and learned the rest of it from Johnny.


Johnny walked into class that day with the morfi fruit in hand. It looked like a cross between an orange and a mango, but with little red hairs like the bristles on a kiwi. He placed it on Mrs. Whitmore’s desk and crossed his fingers behind his back for good luck. He was sure that she couldn’t help loving a gift as unique as that. Maybe she would give him an A right on the spot!

Unfortunately for him, his gift was not well-received because he was twenty-two minutes late for school. When Mrs. Whitmore finished her complex scribbles on the blackboard, she turned around and her face crinkled up like she’d bitten into a lemon. She looked even older when she made that expression.

“Johnny!” She jabbed the nub of chalk at him. “You’re late. Again. That’s detention.”

His shoulders sagged and his head drooped. He shuffled to his desk. He didn’t even grab his favorite hamster from its cage, like he usually did. He didn’t say a word through the rest of the day unless Mrs. Whitmore asked him directly. Usually he was so full of whys and hows and whos that she could barely finish a sentence without being interrupted. He even sat out of kickball at recess, his favorite game.

When the three o’ clock bell rang, the other kids ran for the door and sweet freedom. Johnny watched them go, then stared at the clock, waiting for it to tick away the seconds of his imprisonment.

A scratchy sandpaper sound drew his attention to Mrs. Whitmore’s desk. She was trying to polish the morfi fruit on her shirt. Her eyes met his and she smiled. He wondered why she didn’t smile more often. For a moment she seemed only a little old, instead of fossil-old.

“Where did you find this?” she asked.

He shrugged.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. It is…very interesting.”

He didn’t say anything.

She pulled a plastic knife from her drawer and sliced the morfi open. The meat inside was purple and juicy, and it filled the room with the smell of roses. She stabbed a bit with her knife and raised it to her mouth. Johnny held his breath and sat up straight. If she liked it enough, maybe she would let him out of detention. She touched a bit of it to her tongue. Her face twisted with distaste. Johnny slumped down again and let his breath out in a long sigh.

She looked over at him and smiled again, the forced smile of someone with an upset stomach. “The strangest thing,” she said. “It tastes exactly like sauerkraut. I wasn’t ready for it.”

He slouched lower in his seat until he couldn’t slouch any further without falling out of his chair. She took the smallest of bites. She chewed and chewed, and finally swallowed.

Her stomach gurgled loudly and she clapped her hands over her mouth as she dashed from the room. Johnny followed behind to see where she went, and saw her run into the most forbidden and mysterious part of the school: the teacher’s lounge. He ran up to the door and peered through the window.

The other teachers were inside, sharing a cup of coffee. Mrs. Whitmore dashed through and into the faculty bathroom.

They gaped at her as she ran past, then went back to talking about whatever teachers talk about. Maybe discussing the advantages of plastic rulers versus wooden ones.

They were interrupted again when a young girl exited the bathroom. She couldn’t have been more than nine years old, with yellow hair and blue eyes. She could have been Mrs. Whitmore’s granddaughter. She was wearing Mrs. Whitmore’s clothes. Or trying to. Mrs. Whitmore wasn’t a large woman, but her clothes were loose on a girl that age. One hand held tightly to the waistband of her skirt and another to the collar of her shirt to keep herself together.

Johnny pressed his ear up against the door so he could hear.

“Who are you?” Principal Nelson asked.

“I’m Ellen Whitmore. I don’t know what’s happened to me. I think it’s stopped, whatever it is. I just took a bite of the strangest fruit, and then this happened.”

“A fruit? Can we see?”

Johnny ran back to the classroom before they could catch him at the door, and he was waiting attentively when the young Ellen Whitmore led the teachers back to her classroom.

“That’s it.” She pointed at the morfi. “I felt so terrible about hurting his feelings that I took a bite to cheer him up.”

“It’s a magic fruit!”

“It’s not just a fruit! It’s the fountain of youth!”

Three of the older teachers reached for it all at once. After some scratching and hair pulling, each one got a bite.

They didn’t experience the delayed reaction and sickness Mrs. Whitmore had felt. Each of them changed right then and there, each in their own way.

Mr. Truman crouched down on all fours. His skin turned green and scaly and he shrunk down until he turned into a turtle, waddling along on the ground. Miss Harrison stretched up and up until she was taller than any professional basketball player. Mr. Jones disappeared with a pop. No one’s seen or heard from him since.

The rest of the teachers backed away from the fruit as if it were a bomb.

Johnny had to find out what it was like! What would happen to him when he took a bite? He dashed for it, grabbed the morfi off the tile floor, and took a great big bite. It didn’t taste like sauerkraut at all. It tasted like pecan pie with a big dollop of whipped cream. But he didn’t seem to change at all, and he tried to hold back the disappointment.

Ellen Whitmore peered closely at him. “Do you feel a change coming on, Johnny?”

The other teachers also stared, but only the tops of their heads were visible. They were crouching behind Ellen Whitmore’s desk, in case he exploded.

He noticed a tingle in his muscles, a strength flowing into them. He grinned and grabbed the desk, hefting it up above his head. The teachers stared up at him in shock.

What else could he do now? He set the desk down gently where it belonged and ran straight for the outer wall of the school. He charged through it like it was made of paper and bounded across the playground.

He heard geese honking far overhead. The freedom they must feel with the wind blowing through their feathers, on their way to somewhere warmer. He bent his legs and jumped, not quite as hard as he could. Up and up he went until the town looked like it was a collection of models. He didn’t come back down for quite some time.


Back in the classroom, the teachers were in a panic.

“There’s no telling what it can do!” someone said.

“We’d better call the police. No! The FBI. The CIA. All of them!”

“I guess we’d better take the fruit with us,” Principal Nelson said, without much conviction.

But no one would volunteer to pick it up, so they all agreed to leave and call the proper authorities. They grabbed Mr. Truman the turtle and left with such haste that they knocked over the hamster cage. The teachers didn’t even notice, in their rush to leave.

By the time they returned the morfi fruit was gone, and so were my fellow hamsters and I. Since then I’ve done well for myself. I took advanced classes and received my high school diploma the same year as Johnny.

Why did the fruit affect each person differently? I’m not sure, but I have an idea. Mrs. Whitmore took a bite out of kindness, because she was sorry for hurting Johnny’s feelings, so the fruit affected her in a good way. But the other teachers took a bite out of greed. Johnny took a bite with the innocence of youth, so his wildest dreams came true.

What happened to the other hamsters? Well, they didn’t turn out so well as me. No ambition. They’re working dead-end jobs. Their lives never change, like they’re running in place. It’s sad, really.

Johnny and I, on the other hand, have just finished our first year at New York State. He keeps himself very busy. The crime rate has dropped in half since we moved here, and he still manages to keep his grades up. I’m pursuing a PhD in biochemistry, and he wants to go into law enforcement.

David Steffen is a writer, editor, and software engineer living in Minnesota. He runs the Submission Grinder, a free web tool for writers to track their submissiona and find new markets for their work. He edits the zine Diabolical Plots which began publishing fiction in 2015. He is also the editor of the Long List Anthology: More Stories from the Hugo Award Nomination List.