I get how suspicious it looked. Three people in my life disappeared in the same week, and I was the last person to see all of them. I had an idea of what was behind it, though I couldn’t really explain it, and no one would ever believe it. It all sounded absurd.
One thing you need to understand about me is that my friends and I enter our county’s chili festival each year. Our goal is always to make the hottest chili imaginable. We want to scorch people’s mouths and leave them unable to taste anything for days. We want to see tears, hear screams, and see people frantically fanning their mouths as if that will help in any way whatsoever.
Last year, we thought we finally achieved the greatest level of spicy known to man. We watched people sob and beg for the heat to fade with panting tongues. We watched people chug bottles of water, fill their mouths with so much ice they had chipmunk cheeks, and dance around making strange noises. Then this real punk of a kid came up and ate our chili without expression. We inquired about the spice, and he shrugged saying he’s had hotter. This chubby, red-haired, freckled kid with a backwards baseball cap and orange flannel shirt, singlehandedly smashed all our pride with his thick fists.
We challenged him to return the following year. We said something along the lines of we’ll make a chili that will make you weep or pay you a hundred dollars. He said, “Sure, whatever.”
With the challenge accepted, we went to work creating our weapons for war. The most obvious place to start was the peppers, but we were already using ghost peppers. We already had considered all the key factors like ripeness, crushing the seeds and internal stuff for max heat, and finding the right strains. We grew our own to ensure perfection. We even tried to make hybrid mixes of the hottest, but we couldn’t figure out what we were missing.
Then one day, I was out hiking. Bored of my usual fitness routine and hoping to find some interesting mushrooms, I veered off the trail. I bushwhacked for a few miles while listening to an audiobook, which was a memoir written by an ultimate chili cooking champion. Way out in the woods, I stumbled upon an interesting clearing.
Basking in white rays of sunlight, were what looked like a hundred pepper plants. These peppers were unlike any I’d ever seen. They were such a bright, glacier blue they looked like they were glowing. The thought crossed my mind that when it comes to stars blue means hotter. Maybe that applied to peppers too.
The problem is that I’m a humongous baby when it comes to spice, so I couldn’t try them. Garlic is too spicy for me. Pepperoni is too spicy for me. I don’t even put salt and pepper on my food. I can’t handle any spice at all. I didn’t know if these peppers were spicy, but I wanted to find out. I also didn’t know if I could find this place again. I collected as many as I could carry in my pockets. Luckily, they were small thin ones like jalapenos. I shoved them in my pant’s pockets. I shoved them in my sweatshirt pocket. I had a backpack to carry water with me and a first aid kit because I’m one of those overly-paranoid-overly-prepared types. I filled the backpack too. As I zipped the backpack and dark shaded the peppers, it looked even more like they could glow.
I went straight to my friend Jasmine’s house. She was the first to disappear and this was the last time I saw her. She was also a part of the chili team and had a mouth that seemed armored against spice. She could and did consume the hottest of the hot.
“Hey, Jazzy! I may have found something incredible.” I said when she opened her window.
“Hold on. Before you say another word, why didn’t you just come to the front door? You look super sketchy right now.”
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s just the vibe of the whole thing. It’s a mysterious─”
“I’ll meet you at the front door.”
“Fine, fine.” I walked to the door. When she opened it, I looked around to make sure no one was watching me, then slipped in her house and locked the door behind me.
“What’s going on?” She looked confused and perhaps a little scared.
“I don’t know what I’ve found yet. We need to be careful.”
I opened the bag. In the dimness of her living room, it was clear to see the peppers were glowing. “I need you to eat one.”
“Eat one? You came here acting all weird with some mysterious glowing thing that you want me to just pop in my mouth?”
“Maybe. Where did they come from?”
“Deep in the woods.”
“What if they’re poisonous?”
“Are any peppers?”
“I don’t know.”
“We’ll do a search.” I pulled out my phone and did a search for are any peppers poisonous. The results were a tad confusing. “What if these are hotter than ghost peppers?”
“What if they’re just gross?”
“They might be the key to making the hottest chili known to man!”
“I’ve told you a million times that we can have the hottest chili, but it needs to also taste good or what’s the point?”
“How can we test this?”
She shrugged. “I guess get poison control’s number ready in case.”
We walked into the kitchen where she washed the pepper in the sink. I prepared my phone to call an emergency service.
“This is stupid,” she muttered and slowly took a baby bite of the glowing pepper. Why did I ever let her take such a big risk?
She chewed thoughtfully. “It’s kind of─”
Then she vanished. Disappeared into thin air. In the literal blink of an eye, she was gone. I stood there stunned and feeling around. I don’t know what I thought happened. Maybe my vision was failing me or maybe she became invisible. I don’t know. I didn’t feel her. I searched the whole house for her and screamed her name. I know this is also stupid, but what would you do? I couldn’t wrap my head around the thought that she just zapped out of existence.
I called the police to report my friend vanishing into thin air, but they seemed to think it was stupid prank. They reluctantly took down my information, agreed to investigate it, but also told me to go home and sleep it off.
I’m not proud of this, but the next person to disappear was my dad and that may have been more directly my fault. My tolerance of my father was already so low due to him being an abusive, alcoholic, jerk. When I went home, already shaken up over losing Jazzy mysteriously, I couldn’t handle his usual ill temper. He picked a fight like he always did, and I decided to throw a pepper in his Bloody Mary while he was in the bathroom. Then I sat on the couch, ready to watch him.
He walked in the room grumbling and groaning. He dropped onto his chair and pushed the button that made it recline. He grabbed his drink, eyed the glowing pepper, and tossed it into his mouth. At first nothing happened. He continued watching football with that scowl on his face while he aggressively chewed. Then poof! He vanished. The drink dropped to the floor. The glass smashed and the contains splattered across the floor and side of the chair. I didn’t bother reporting him missing to the police.
I went to my room and searched the internet for anything I could find on these mysterious peppers. I found nothing. Then my toddler brother waddled into my room sucking on the head of his action figure.
“Leave me alone, Benny. I’m busy.”
“I’ll get us pizza in a minute.”
“I hungry now.”
My phone buzzed, and I had to answer because it was Jasmine’s mom. I knew she’d be asking where she was and what I knew. While I tried to figure out what to say, I didn’t see that the glowing blue light had lured Benny to my bag. I turned in time to see him gnawing on the pepper with an uncertain look. Then he vanished.
I had lost two people who meant a lot to me and that one other guy I called dad, so these peppers were getting to me. No one would believe me peppers were making people vanish. It was insane. I didn’t even believe me, but I needed to know. As far as I could see, there was only one way to know. I did the only thing that made sense to me. I ate a pepper.
After biting the pepper, my world faded to bright, blinding blue light. Then the blue slowly parted like the opening of an elevator door. I stepped out and found myself in front of a large, gray desk. Behind the desk was a creature. The creature either didn’t have a neck or their neck was the same as their head. There was a slender, cylinder shaped head like a tube of lipstick, that had dark eyes and a mouth. This head was blue with little bubbles moving up it so that it looked a bit like a test tube. It’s arms, if you could call them that, were wavy and constantly moving. They were see through and more like light than solid material.
“Another human! Ugh! Not again.” The creature said angrily. “How did you get here?”
“I ate a pepper,” I whispered nervously and folded into myself. This tube-shaped creature with wavy arms stood to three times my height.
“We were certain humans wouldn’t eat what looked like a strange and unhealthy pepper in the middle of the woods, but I guess we were wrong. It’s time for a new disguise for our transporter devices.”
“Are the other…uh, humans up here?”
“I’ll bring you to the one in charge of human matters. Follow me.”
The creature’s legs were wavy light like its arms. It looked like it floated, and the legs were more of an illusion that functioning. We walked by hundreds of these creatures doing what looked like science experiments of some sort. There were tubes of liquid, little puffs of smoke, and creatures jotting things on notepads. We were in some kind of building, but I couldn’t tell where.
“Why are you transporting to the woods?” I asked.
“Where is this?”
“That’s also confidential.”
“I’m still, like, on earth, right?”
“No, not exactly.”
“But…but…what’s going to happen to me?”
We turned into a room that looked like a commercial kitchen. I saw my dad, brother, and Jazzy tied up to a wall with what looked like glowing green electricity. Their mouths were stuffed with what appeared to be glowing pink apples.
“Hey, I got another one for you.” The creature I had been following said to the other.
The other creature looked delighted. “Yes! I needed another. Now, I’ll have enough for the chili.”
“Oh, I’m so excited! Humans add such a pleasant flavor.”