The headline read, “BREAKING: ALL ASPARAGUS INFECTED WITH C. COCCOLETTI VIRUS. THE WHITE HOUSE ISSUED A STATEMENT THIS MORNING: ‘DO NOT EAT ASPARAGUS. YOU WILL DIE.’
It was not hard for Dennis to find asparagus. There was a giant bag of it sitting outside FreshMarket, slumped between two dumpsters. He picked it up and placed it in the back of his station wagon, locked his car, and went into the store to buy lemons and butter.
Dennis texted four of his friends and asked if they would like to come over for dinner. He told them that there would be poisonous asparagus. His friends were journalists, so they instantly agreed. Cate offered to bring wine, and asked if he would prefer red or white. “What would you like as your last drink?” He answered that she should bring both, and maybe whatever else she had lying around.
Sam offered up a coffee cake from his grandmother, but Sam and Dennis agreed that he should eat it himself before he left his house instead. There would undoubtedly be a lot of vomiting after they ingested the asparagus, and if Dennis managed to survive, he didn’t want to clean regurgitated coffee cake off his walls, along with having to dispose of the corpses of his friends. “Totally get it,” responded Sam.
Dennis prepared his dinner table while concurrently emailing Vice back and forth about compensation. Alex had already claimed The New York Times, which bothered Dennis tremendously because it had been his idea, after all. He hoped Alex died first, or just most horribly. Cate had secured xoJane, and Sam was planning to use the material for an autobiography released posthumously (he’d been working on it for years, and had written over 30 chapters of it so far). Everyone arrived and arranged themselves in the living room. Dennis poured them each a drink, and then another, as they all sat around silently clicking on their machines. It almost seemed a shame that they’d all have to move to the table soon and die. At 8:30 on the button, after each had filed part one with their editors, they moved into the dining room.
Dennis steamed the asparagus on the stove, tossed it with butter and squeezed lemon onto it.
"What kind of lemon is that?" asked Sam.
"Regular, not meyer," said Dennis.
"What kind of butter?" asked Cate.
"I splurged. On Plugra."
Tap tap tap tap tap.
Dennis brought the platter into the dining room. Alex had to move his computer onto his lap, and then Sam spilled his wine all over it.
"No!" cried Alex. "I didn’t save!"
"You saved part one, right?" asked Dennis.
"Part one was so short!"
Alex was in a panic. He tilted his keypad sideways and red wine poured out of the return button. The screen was frozen, then went to black. Alex stood up from the table.
"I don’t want to die tonight," he said. "This sucks. This is going to cost thousands of dollars. Thanks a lot, Sam. You’re an asshole."
"You’re going to regret that!" said Sam. "I’m putting that in here, and everyone’s going to rip you apart in response pieces when they read that those were the last words you said to me!"
"I’m sorry," said Alex.
"I’m not even putting that part in, because you called me an asshole."
"You have to," said Alex, "or you’re risking your integrity. There are witnesses."
"The witnesses will be dead!"
Alex sat back down. “Give me the asparagus,” he said as he scribbled on his emergency legal pad. “I want to eat it first.”
"Alex, don’t," said Cate. "Come on."
"No. I want to be the first one to go, and I just want you all to know —" he glared at Sam, "— that I’m going to say what good friends you all are and how I was lucky to spend my last night with you, eating poison. And that I apologized. And that I was the first to die."
"It’s probably about how your body handles it, not who ingests it first," said Dennis.
"Okay, but you’re all going to have to say who ate it first. You’re going to have to say. It was me."
"I kind of thought I’d be first since it’s my party," said Dennis, "and my idea."
"Yeah, but I’m writing this for my autobiography,” said Sam. “I already have 400 pages.”
"Fine," said Alex. Sam helped himself to the vegetables and passed it to Cate. She paused.
"I’m just thinking, you know, I could freeze this asparagus and write my own autobiography," said Cate. "I’m having second thoughts. I could do this in a year. I’m sorry, you guys. I just know I could go long on this."
"That’s a really good point," said Alex. "Do you think you can freeze it after you’ve steamed it?"
"I’m pretty sure you can," said Cate. "You can freeze anything."
"No way," said Sam, his mouth full. "Everybody has to eat the asparagus."
"Yours will be published like a year before hers," said Dennis, "you could leverage with that."
"How long do I have?" Sam stared at his plate.
"I don’t know, I didn’t look into it. You’d think four hours, right?"
"I have to send an email," said Sam. "This is becoming more complicated than it was supposed to be." Sam was looking pale. His fingers were freezing up. "Hey man, you think you could help me get this out?"
Dennis took Sam’s laptop as he dictated the message. He looked very unwell. “Say, you know — I’m thinking double the advance, basically — I don’t know, don’t be too forceful or mean or anything, just be really firm about it. And at the end say ‘thanks’ with an exclamation mark.” Sam spread out on the floor. He was very pale. “Just send it, whatever. I really hope he gets back to me soon. Are you guys going to eat it? You guys? Dennis? Did you send that? Refresh it. Dennis?” Sam died. It was gross.
Nobody could eat in that kind of environment. The asparagus was taken back to the kitchen and divided into three Ziploc bags. Emails were sent explaining what had happened. Tweets were composed. RIP Sam.
Dennis sent Alex and Cate off with their leftovers and condolences about Alex’s computer. He got an email from his editor: “You know, I think it’s an even better story because you didn’t eat it. You might catch some heat for this, of course. The authorities are probably going to get involved. But it’s a pretty big story. Really dramatic, even though you’re still alive.” Dennis tossed his bag of asparagus into the garbage and looked at Sam’s body, wondering what he should do with it.