GG | ✔️

3. Chili-red

The Spittle Petal, Screecher Petal and Muving Petal shook in their shell-sprinkled square receptacle.

“They are like baby T-rexes! Trying to hug each other but they can’t! Their arms are too short!” Una cried out.

“They must achieve Togetherness.”

Una kneeled on the sidewalk next to Duo. “Why can’t they?”

“We need more of them.”

“How many?”

“We had none in the Past. We have three in the Present. The Future is the Unknown.”

“I don’t think I like the Unknown.” Una grimaced.

“Don’t do that. Don’t you know your face will get stuck? Then, you’ll always have that ugly prune-like look.” Duo swatted her nose. “And: love the Unknown. Life is about puzzles. Not about finding solutions to them. It would be beyond boring to have all the answers.”

“I guess.” Una shrugged, but she did un-grimace her features.

“Riddle me this: what’s your neighbor doing in line in front of the non-existent cinema, at the ticket office that will never open, to see the film that will never air?”

Una stood up with haste, knowing she should not be seen sitting on the cold concrete by an adult.

“Good afternoon,” she said in the greet-the-elderly-people-cloy-sweet voice.

The neighbor’s head bobbed up-and-down.

“She isn’t feeling chatty today. Let’s go, Una.” Duo yawned.

“Go where? We don’t know where the next petal is.”

“To Toys, Trinkets and Trifles.” Duo pointed at the toy shop right next to the cinema.

“How do you know we are to go there?”

“It takes but one glance in their shop window.”

A small red Beetle toy car with a rounded roof dominated the display.

“And a wooden doll.” Duo gestured towards a Pinocchio-look-alike mannequin.

“Crikey! That’s wonderful, kit…”

“Tut-tut. No. Catcalling.”

“Jeepers-creepers, Duo! Stop being so grumpy!” Una hopped with glee. “We didn’t have to walk far. Here I was thinking the latest puzzle was oh so very hard!”

“Cherish this victory. Few triumphs are coincidentally achieved,” Duo said.

Una turned around to glance after the neighbor one more time.

“One should not lose one’s focus.” Duo nibbled on her earlobe. “Always follow the petals, Una. Straying away from the path is not safe. Curiosity can be harmful.”

“I know a saying about cats and curiosities.” She stuck her tongue at him.

“Touché. Dexterously defeated. By my own definition, no less. Let us press on.” He jumped inside her schoolbag.

“Why?” Una started but understood when she saw a huge rectangular sign.


On it, a figure of a terrier dog bore a regal red sash.

“Such discrimination. Cats are never on these signs,” Duo protested. “We mustn’t dawdle. Press the buzzer.”

Moments later, an elongated elastic hand reached for the handle from the other side.

Upon entrance, Una was greeted by the strangest sight.

An avuncular-faced man stood behind the counter.

His four arms were flapping about diligently.

Arm number one was writing down a phone number.

Arm number two was rubbing off customers’ shoe prints from the floor.

Arm number three was stirring the drab dark-brown liquid in a tiny cup.

Arm number four was returning the change to ‘another satisfied customer’.

The tag on his uniform said: “Ike, the Master Handshaker.”

“Leonardo da Vinci would have given his eye teeth to see this.” Duo’s catty eyes bloomed like two lotuses on the surface of the light-blue-backpack lake.

Una peered through the Muving Petal and discovered a shimmer behind the door labeled: “Employees only.”

“Shame, that,” Duo commented. “Bypass the rule, we must.”

“Come on in, little lass! What will ye be havin’, then? I’m sure I can… Lend ya a hand!” Ike cracked up at his internal joke.

Una stared at the floorboards in discomfort, searching for minuscule faces in wooden circles.

“And there she stands, still speechless! My arms, she must be awed by them! Everyone is when they first lay their eyes on this quartet of beauties! Wouldntcha like to know how they got like this?”

Una nodded.

“Used to bite me fingernails a lot. And then swallow what I would chop off with me teeth, I would. Made two whole extra arms grow out of me.”

“I thought that was only true for apple seeds,” Una maintained the conversational tone of voice. “If you eat one, an apple tree grows inside of you.”

“Codswallop! The fingernail thing is true, though. I’m a-livin’ proof, I am. Look at me now! I can do twice as much work than before. People wish for the day to have thirty-six hours. Twelve hours is enough for me!” He dangled his arms around like windmill sails. “Would ya care for some candy?”

Una shook her head no. She wasn’t fond of candy dispensers. They reminded her of the lottery raffle drums: one never knew what flavored gumdrop was going to roll out of them next.

“What will you be buyin’ then? Or are ya one of those ‘just browsin’?” He wheezed.

Blotches of rash popped up on his face and neck.

That made him resemble a grotesque humanoid polka dot dress.

“Just a moment, lil’ missy. I ain’t feelin’ so good.” He sneezed.

Duo hopped on the counter.

“Jeez, Louise! Is that a cat? I’m allergic to cat hair!”

Two of Ike’s hands clasped his forehead.

The other two tried to unbutton his collar.

“Duo! What have we done?” Una’s fingers wrestled in a pressing-catch style.

“Ah, he’ll be fine. We, however, should… Benefit from this bedlam, eh?”

The tomcat sashayed towards the backroom door.


“Hello?” Una whispered.

The absence of noise and light said nothing in return.

“Shhh! Don’t send sound into silence.” Duo warned her.

The pitter-patter of tiny feet scuttled through the room. Hundreds of miniature flashlights glared at them from the darkness.

“Am I the only one getting the ‘Tell me what you did last night at nine p.m. vibe?'” Duo said.

An “Elemenopee Fortress” of letter cubes rose before them.

Behind it, Una spotted the Easy-Bake Oven.

Within it, a single chili pepper was bathing in the warmth of the light-bulb.

Una looked through the Muving Petal.

Within the pepper, there was a red circlet.

“Why is there a petal inside a chili pepper?” Una murmured.

“How should I know?” Duo whispered back. “You are well aware of the fact I am neither a chef nor a sous-chef de cuisine. Human servants bring me my meals!”

“Maybe it’s like when Daddy puts bacon and cheese in a meatloaf?” Una pondered.

A tall wooden mannequin rose from behind the abecedarian hurdle.

Its joints made a creak and screech noise.

After an additional “plop,” it became Una’s height.

A red wig popped out of its scalp.

Bright-red pupilless irises peered towards the tandem.

“Someone pleeease rub me behind my ears? Ears only, mind you! I really need it right about now!” Duo squeaked, grabbing the nearby dusty wooden toy sword and shield.

The doll stomped her feet to punctuate her rage.


“Noitcelfer ruyo ma I means: I am your reflection. One of the toughest battles you will wage, yet. Face yourself,” Duo warned.

“She is me?”

“An angry, twisted version of you. Defeating yourself is hard, granted. Your opponent knows all your moves. She knows how to block and parry. It might do you well to get an army. She already has one.”

Dozens of mini metallic toy robots with flashlights in their eyes began closing in on them.

“What are those?” Una asked.

“Singular: Roboticus; Plural: Robotici. Modern toys,” Duo replied.

“How do I get an army?”

“You call them, of course” Duo handed her a paper cup phone.

“Please! We are the Petal-Carriers and we need help!” Una yelled into the cup.

Multitude of multicolored surrounding toyboxes sprung open.

The first one to answer the call was a teddy bear with a top hat and a monocle. “Petal-Carriers. My name is Mr. Hugglesworth. How may I be of service?” He made a reverential bow.

“We need help to bring down that fortress!” Duo yelled. “And to get rid of the Roboticos!”

At those words, one of the Robotici advanced towards Duo. It pressed the trigger on its water pistol.

“Oh no, you don’t!” Duo roared, lifting his shield to save his precious fur from the water droplets. “No one soaks me and lives to tell the tale! Cowabunga! I’ll show you dunderheads what I am made of!!”

More and more toys were now hopping out of the toybox-trench, joining the fray.

Football balls rolled over the letter cubes in spherical waves, obliterating the L-M-N-O-P fortress.

Toy planes circled the battlefront, spitting out paper bullets at Roboticos.

A bunch of various-sized babushkas sprouted arms with rolled-up sleeves and dealt fist punches on the ground.

“My army is scattering,” ANU said. “It matters not. I can still defeat you, you pathetic little excuse for a human! Then, I will take away your petals and become you. I will be a real girl and an only child.”

“Why are you so angry?” Una demanded to know.

“It’s Paz’s fault. She is the one who vanished and left me—left us to deal with her disappearance. I hate her because of the way she made me feel.”

“But it’s not. It’s not her fault,” Una argued. “It happened to her. She didn’t cause it. Anger makes you look big, seem important, does it not? I know it feels good to be angry. ”

“Divine,” ANU admitted.

“That’s a lie. You think you grow because you shout. You make others feel bad and small. But you are the petty one. Because you offend others to make yourself better. I have to stop you.”

Una kicked a box filled with marbles.

They spilled like buttons ripped from an overcoat and rolled over the floor to trip ANU.

When ANU was down, Una tossed a Hula-hoop towards her.

It transformed into a multicolored plastic snake mid-air and wrapped up around Una’s double.

“Thanks!” Una beamed at the snake, opening The Easy-Bake oven and grabbing the chili pepper.

“No ssssweat,” the Hula-serpent hissed back.

“Good work! Run towards the front end of the store!” Duo shouted, still deflecting one remaining Roboticus with his shield. “Those marbles and the Hula-hoop squeeze might slow her down but ANU always gets up again. The Anger never leaves you, not fully.”

After having run out of the backroom, Una and Duo discovered the shop was empty.

“Oh, poor Ike! They must have taken him to the hospital!” A blade of guilt skewered Una.

“No time! Get in the car!” Duo pointed towards the red Beetle in the shop window.

“How am I supposed to enter the car? We’re too big!”

“The petal will do its work. Dimensions are relative and flexible,” Duo reassured her.

Sure enough, as they opened the mini car door while holding the Anu petal, both of their bodies adapted to the size of the vehicle.

“¡Ay caray! A little human and a little gato inside me. ¿How did this happen, Dios mío?” the red Volkswagen complained.

It/he/she did not appear amused by the sudden invasion.

“We barely made it out there alive! The hazards of the petal hunt.” Duo hyperventilated, his tail resembling an upside-down toilet brush.

“Hi. Um. We are Una and Duo. What is your name?” Una thought it was for the best to be polite.

“My name is Señorita Cucaracha.”

“Señorita Cucaracha. Thank you for taking us in.” Una patted the leather seat.

“You are welcome, mi niña.” Red Beetle hummed soothingly, moving onto the sidewalk.

Una stared at an up-close display of the passerby’s shoes. They were the size of mansions, with shoelace holes for windows.

Duo placed the now-once-again-inanimate Mr. Hugglesworth’s monocle on his blue eye.

“I don’t know why we had to take that teddy bear, too,” he hissed in disgust.

“Paz likes them! We can play with him when I find her.”

“At least the monocle is useful.” Duo reached for the petal.

Grain sandy sundown

A poached, tipsy salmon floats

within the ocean glass rim

“Duo! You can read!”

“After everything you have witnessed, after what we’ve been through, it surprises you that I can read? Honestly, human children these days!”

“I hope you have your toallas and your parasoles with you,” La Cucaracha said. “¡Nos vamos a la playa!”

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