Colonel Cobb Meets his Match
Colonel Cobb paced up and down the neat rows of vegetables on his farm, his riding crop tucked smartly under his arm. The medals on his jacket gleamed in the early morning sunlight; the fresh coat of polish he had put on them last night left them glaringly bright. The large Mutant Grundo’s stern expression masked the joy he was feeling: it was a beautiful day, he was in control, and his vegetables were being very obedient.
At seven o’clock sharp, Colonel Cobb snapped to attention in front of a patch of asparagus and began morning drills. “All right, you sorry excuses for soldiers, listen up! We’re going to have double exercises today because Private Smith failed uniform inspection yesterday!” Cobb glared at a squash in a neighboring row. “Now, Smith, what do you have to say for yourself?”
The squash was silent.
“Come on, Private, Meowclops got your tongue? Explain yourself!”
The squash said nothing.
Cobb smiled. “I see, too ashamed to say a thing. Very good, Private, as you were.” The Grundo turned back to the asparagus. “Now, troops, today is a very special day: we’re welcoming some new recruits to our ranks. They’re – Johnson!” he suddenly snapped. “Private Johnson, what in Neopia do you think you’re doing?”
Cobb goose-stepped over to a Chokato that had a small Ladyblurg crawling on its leaves. Cobb was furious. “Insubordination! Harboring enemy combatants! Private Johnson, explain yourself!”
The Chokato did not explain itself.
Cobb knelt down so he was face-to-face with the offending soldier. He took a deep breath and bellowed at the top of his lungs. “Johnson, you will straighten up this very moment, or you’ll have a court martial flying at you faster than you can say ‘cream of leek soup!’”
The Ladyblurg lazily flew off, probably frightened by Cobb’s yelling.
“That’s better,” muttered the Colonel. “I’m willing to forgive you this one time, Johnson, but you’d better be on your best behavior from now on. Don’t let me catch you fraternizing like that again!” Cobb rose to his feet and returned to his position at the head of the vegetable patch.
“As I was saying, troops, we have some new recruits today. I planted some turnip seeds a week ago, and we had our first sprout last night. I have yet to examine the new Private, but I hope you have already welcomed him. Now, I shall go introduce myself to the recruit. While I am occupied, feel free to talk amongst yourselves, not that you ever seem to do so. But no matter!” And with this, Colonel Cobb paced over to the freshly-tilled patch of earth off to his left.
The dark brown soil was dotted with small sprouts in neat, orderly rows. The leaves on the sprouts were colorless, but Cobb assumed that with sunlight, a healthy, green sheen would come in time. There was one turnip that stood out, though; this was clearly the Private of which the Colonel spoke. This turnip had matured quite quickly, and was almost full grown: it had a large, leafy stalk and a bulge under the soil indicating where the root was located. But there was something odd about this particular turnip.
It was grey.
The leaves on its stalk were droopy and shaped like teardrops. The body of the turnip itself was a sickly shade, the color of rain clouds before a storm, the color of a dirty puddle, the color of sadness. The color grey.
Colonel Cobb stopped dead in his tracks. “A grey turnip?” he muttered to himself. “This is unheard of! It breaks every regulation in the rulebook!” Cobb quickly searched the pockets of his uniform, and pulled out the seed packet he had planted last week. “TURNIPS*” it read, with a small asterisk at the end. Cobb searched the packet for the footnote, and eventually found it, located on the back and written in extremely small print. “*This seed packet includes seeds intended for growing Grey Turnips only. No refunds.”
Cobb was furious. He, the commander of the greatest vegetable army in Neopia, had been duped! Well, he wasn’t going to stand for it. And the most obvious target for him to take his anger out on was the poor grey turnip in front of him.
“What’s your name, Private?” he snapped at the turnip.
The turnip did not give its name.
“Very well, I’ll name you myself!” shouted Cobb. “Let’s see, what should I name you...? I’ve got it! Dankle! Now, shape up, Private Dankle! Drop and give me twenty!”
The newly-dubbed private Dankle neither dropped nor gave him twenty.
“Wise guy, eh? Well, we’ll break you in soon enough. We don’t stand for any of that droopy-leaved slacking around here, no sir. You can get any thoughts of lying about all day right out of your tiny little head, mister, because around here, we are a finely trained military force! What do you have to say to that?” asked Cobb triumphantly.
Dankle had nothing to say to that.
“Just as I thought,” sneered the Colonel. “Now, start behaving yourself! Stop being so droopy and sad and pathetic!”
Private Dankle just drooped a little more.
“Stop it!” shouted Cobb, his face starting to turn red. “I will not stand for this!”
Dankle did not reply.
“Come on,” Cobb said, his voice now tinted with pleading. “Just try and look healthy and green. Please?”
The turnip refused.
The Grundo took a knee and looked the vegetable right in the eye. “I’m... I’m sorry for yelling at you, Dankle. Now, will you please cheer up? Just a little? For me?”
Dankle continued to look pathetic.
“Fine!” shouted Cobb, suddenly angry, as he stood up and turned away. “I don’t need you, anyway! I’ve got an entire army of vegetables; you’re nothing special. You and your friends! As soon as they sprout, tell them they’re free to go. We don’t need you in this army!” He paused. His lip started to quiver. A tear formed in the corner of his eye. Colonel Cobb, the valiant leader, had been reduced to tears by a single turnip.
“Why won’t you listen to me, Dankle?” Cobb asked pathetically as he wiped away the tear and turned back around. “Is it because you don’t like me? That’s it, isn’t it? I’m not good enough for you?”
Dankle did not deny this.
“I understand, Dankle,” said Cobb morosely. “To tell you the truth, some days, I feel a little grey myself. On the inside, that is. But, of course, I can’t do anything about it, because I need to command this army, and I can’t let them see any weakness.”
Cobb knelt again and whispered to the turnip. “You won’t tell anyone about this, will you, Dankle? The other soldiers need to believe in me.” He glanced over his shoulder at the asparagus, which suddenly seemed judgmental to him. “Maybe, Dankle... maybe... we could be friends? If you don’t mind, that is.”
Dankle did not say he minded.
“Oh, fantastic!” Cobb shouted, his face lighting up. “I have so many things that I’ve been holding inside for so long, but now I finally have a friend! Thank you, Dankle, thank you!” He then tried to hug the turnip, but was rather unsuccessful. He instead made do with patting its drooping, grey leaves.
As the day passed, Cobb spent hours confiding in his newfound companion. He told Dankle all of his deepest secrets and insecurities, and Dankle listened as attentively as any Grundo could hope for. All thoughts of military drills and exercises faded from Cobb’s head as he laughed and joked with the grey turnip.
Finally, the shadows began to lengthen and Colonel Cobb yawned. “Well, Dankle, it seems that we’ve talked the day away. Or rather, I’ve talked the day away; you weren’t very chatty. But that’s all right, maybe tomorrow you’ll feel like talking. We... we can talk again tomorrow, can’t we?” Cobb asked anxiously.
Dankle did not refuse.
“Oh, thank you!” gushed Cobb. “Now, it’s off to bed with me. I’ll just say good night to the troops.” He stood and walked back to the asparagus with a swagger in his step.
“All right, you sloppy messes that call yourselves soldiers, listen up! Don’t think that I’ve gone soft just because I spent the day talking to Private Dankle over there; I just had to whip him into shape! Be ready for your morning exercises bright and early tomorrow, like always. Now, at ease!” And with this, Colonel Cobb marched back into his small shack, a smile on his face.
Meanwhile, back in the vegetable patch, Dankle sat patiently. He would wait until tomorrow, and once again listen to Colonel Cobb’s worries and insecurities. It’s what a grey turnip does best.