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by Mike Barthel


It was, as always, a bright day in May. Everything was calm in the little village that was nothing if not picturesque. Little children played on the sidewalk, in the sun. They turned their faces toward it and felt warm and comfortable.

Today was dandelion day. It was traditionally the second sunny day after a hard rain after the first day of spring, but it was easier to remember just "dandelion day." Those two words conjured up images of fields full of the yellow petals to the residents of the town. They would drive along the roads and see the dandelions all spread out in the warm sun. They were beautiful, if only for a short time.

The little children would pick the dandelions. They would rub them on each others' cheeks and gather bunches to present to their mothers. They would pluck the heads off the stalks and place them on the sidewalk, one to each square. It was known that you must always avoid stepping on the children's dandelions on dandelion day.

Nature always cooperated on dandelion day. She always produced the sunny weather necessary for proper dandelion appreciation. It was such a nice day, everyone agreed.

The whole town would slowly gather, sometime in the late afternoon, in the park, which lay at the low point of the village. They would stroll down the hills and converge on the small plot of greenery that everyone knew so well. The children of the village would continue picking the dandelions as they went, taking great delight in plucking the flowers off their stems cleanly. Then they would have to wipe the liquid from inside the stems on their pants, but their mothers didn't mind. They would have a whole bundle of flower heads by the time they reached the park. And everyone was careful not to step on the children's dandelions.

And as the whole town reached the park, they saw old Mr. Higgins bringing out the contraption again. It was a good thing he had a tractor, everyone remarked, because it would be hard for anyone to carry out such a heavy-looking metal contraption all by himself. Mr. Higgins used his tractor to drag the contraption out to the center of the green, where it sat calmly, waiting for everyone to arrive.

And after a while, everyone did. Some unfolded lawn chairs and settled in. The children went back to their dandelion-picking. Things smelled of cut grass and tobacco. Dandelion day is really just an excuse to clean up the village. Just a tradition to get the children to pick the weeds--and to teach them a valuable lesson. If a beautiful thing is bad, it must be removed. They believed in the saying that it takes a whole village to raise a child.

The contraption stood there, eager now as it saw its moment of glory approaching. The contraption was a huge metal machine with two opposing screws and lots of sturdy leather straps. There was a hole near the top of the contraption that most of the straps dangled about. The whole things was secured to the ground to prevent it from moving, now that Mr. Higgins had put the spikes in. Everyone was quiet.

And so they brought them out, one by one. They were chained, but they did not need to be. They were all so heavily sedated that not much could have caused them to move. In the traditional wooden cart, they wheeled out 16 young men and women. They had come of age. They had been judged.

They were weeds.

The first one was taken out of the cart and led towards the contraption. her head was placed in the contraption's hole and secured with the contraption's straps. And Mr. Higgins began to turn the screw.

"I know this one," remarked a wife to her husband. "Recommend her myself. She was a very strange one, she was. Went by the name of Kerb. Her real name was so nice, too--Kelly. Definitely not fit for our town. Don't know how her family slipped through the cracks. I would recommend them too, if it was allowed."

At first, it only stretched. Then the assembled crowd could hear bones cracking in her neck. She grunted. Her round face began to show some signs of pain. And then she began to scream. Mr. Higgins was turning the screw slower now, as the turning became harder. The crank turned another screw, which slowly drew the girl's head away from her body. The girl's screaming became frenzied, high-pitched and sputtering. And finally, as the screaming became almost unbearable, the head came off.

The crowd cheered. Blood spurted over the contraption.

"See that, David?" the wife said to her son. "Just like a dandelion. You don't want to be a dandelion, do you David?"

"No, mommy."

"That's my good boy."