- Stephanie Lennon
Allergies and Implications
Ollie the Ogre has never been accepted by his peers, thanks to a peculiar allergy. Will the acceptance of one ogre be enough to keep him going?
Another day, another plate of greens I had to forage my damn self. I push my little toasted leaves around with my fork while Francis and Johnny and Sheila and the others partake in today’s big feast: fire-roasted firefighters.
A delicacy saved only for the most special occasions. In this case, a newly born addition to our tribe. And firefighters are not easy to come by either. It requires some of our most crafty members to start a fire so big the firefighters can see it from the nearby village. It’s not like we can just call them up and report it. We don’t have phones way out here in the forest.
Before long, those firetrucks would come streaming down the forest trail. I’m still not sure how they even fit, honestly. But sure enough there they’d be, hoses at the ready. With the minimal amount of water in their truck tanks. Not expecting to find us with nets and pickaxes. Their hoses couldn’t save them now.
Now, if I could, I would absolutely be enjoying those juicy firefighters right alongside my friends. But I wasn’t born right. Human flesh makes my wrinkly skin break out into some serious hives and my throat close up, making it impossible for me to breathe.
Imagine being an ogre who’s allergic to humans.
Growing up, I was teased constantly.
“Ha-ha, little Ogre Ollie can’t eat Polly.”
They’d chant and dance around me, while eating fried calves dipped in caramelized blood. Meanwhile, there I sat with my carrots and broccoli that I grew myself in my gardening class. My mother always said it was just a phase. That I would outgrow it before I left my teens.
Well, I most certainly did not.
Francis comes to sit with me at my favorite spot by the lake, his plate overflowing with crispy-looking fingers and shredded spleen.
“How was your day, Ollie?” he asks.
Now, Francis had never been one to tease me while we were growing up. He was embarrassed to be seen with me in public, but we spent hours hiking through new parts of the forest, away from our homes and school. Just he and I. Diets were never on the discussion menu. And he never made me feel like less of an ogre. Honestly, once my mother passed, Francis was the only thing keeping me here.
“It was fine. Found some tasty leaves in a part of the forest that hasn’t been wiped clean by the woodland critters.” I stuff a forkful into my mouth. Francis leaves his fingers untouched.
“That’s great. I’d love to forage with you sometime, like we used to.”
When we were young, I had always wondered if there was more to our friendship than just being friends. Neither of us ever acted on it, though.
“When would you even have time for me, with your big fancy promotion?” I laugh.
“Trust me, I’m going to need an excuse to get away. I love my job, but an ogre needs his space, you know?”
Space is all I’ve ever had. Space to just be alone, left to figure out why I was chosen to be so different than the rest of my tribe.
“Yeah, I get that. Well, you know where to find me. Once the greens are picked, they only last a day or two, so I usually go a few times a week. Try to mix up where I go. Would go crazy if I was eating the same three greens.”
“What if you just sucked it up? I bet the tribe’s healer could even mix you an herbal cream for those hives you get. Then you could eat with the rest of us!” He finally takes a chomp out of a finger.
“It’s not the hives, so much as the not being able to breathe. Breathing is pretty important, believe it or not. Even for ogres.” I smile before shoving the last of my leaves into my mouth.
“Right. Of course.” He places his plate on the ground and leans back on his muscly arms. I swear I feel my heart skip a beat. “Have you ever tried different types of humans? Or maybe different parts of the body? Do you think it’s just the flesh? Want to try some shredded spleen?”
I can’t help but laugh. It’s sweet that after all these years he’s still trying to find a way to include me. “Honestly, I don’t know. After the first time, I’ve always been too afraid to try, you know?”
Despite my young age, I will never forget the first day I tried to consume human flesh. At least not the part up until I passed out from lack of oxygen. It was the Welcome to Kindergarten barbecue. The moment I touched it, my fingers exploded in hives. The food was piping hot, so I thought maybe they were just burn blisters. Didn’t think much of it. And then I popped it in my mouth. It tasted like sweat and peppermint, which I certainly didn’t mind. But once I swallowed it, I could feel my throat constricting, swelling up like a big balloon.
Nobody knew how to help me, because they had never seen such a reaction before. Not even the school nurse. The most she ever had to deal with was a clobbered head. And all that required was a little herbal tea and a quick nap on the nurse’s cot.
Apparently, it wasn’t until I had already passed out when she realized she should probably do something. After that, all I ate were fruits and vegetables.
Francis had been there, so he should know enough not to suggest such a terrifying idea.
“Well, maybe someday you’ll be ready to try again.” He offers a comforting pat on my shoulder. “Want to take a walk now?”
My heart recovers that beat from earlier, plus a few extra, beating faster than it has since middle school. And are those moths fluttering around my stomach?
I smile, throwing my dirty plate into my hollowed-out tree trunk sink. Francis sneaks some shredded spleen into his pocket for later, then tosses his leftover fingers into the lake. He adds his plate to mine.
We sneak off into the forest, following one of my favorite trails that leads to a small bubbling creak. Very romantic. You know, if you happen to be a young ogre on a first date.
But that’s not what this. Just a friend trying to help out another friend, right?
The sun is setting just as we reach the creek. I love the way it reflects off the water.
“There’s something I’ve always wondered, Ollie.” He runs his sausage-like fingers over his bald, spotted head.
“Yeah, Francis?” I have to wonder if maybe I accidentally ate some human, because I suddenly can’t breathe so well.
“Did you ever feel something more than friendship when we were growing up? You know, for me?”
Yup, definitely can’t breathe. All I can do is nod as I massage my neck, willing it to work again. After a few seconds, I manage to take a deep breath and look Francis dead in the eye.
“Honestly, part of me always wondered. You were always so kind to me. The only one who spent any time with me outside of my disappointed family.” My heart is beating wildly once more.
“Just felt drawn to you.”
He entwines those sausage fingers into mine and presses his lips against mine. It gets heated faster than I expect and before I know what’s happening, hives protrude from my skin.
Francis pulls back when he notices my struggle.
“Ollie? What’s wrong? Are you having a reaction?”
The flesh on his breath must have caused the hives, but all I want to do is keep kissing him.
“Everything is perfect,” I say as I move in to kiss him once more.
Hives go away eventually, right?
By Stephanie Lennon
Stephanie Lennon is a writer and teacher in Brooklyn, NY. She has had short work published in BioStories, Blind Corner Literary Magazine, and 34 Orchard. You can follow her on Twitter for exciting updates about her WIP: @lennon_writes.