There was once a grand garden. It grew all manner of vegetables and herbs and the family that ate of it were always well fed.
One fall the smallest of small heads of garlic had been left in the ground. No one noticed it, or if they did, they decided it was much too small to consider.
The weather turned unseasonably warm and the little garlic did as any other would do under the circumstances: it started to grow.
A thin green blade fought its way out of the soil and took its share of sunlight. Because the days grew shorter it didn't get all it needed and instead of growing it went to sleep. Snow covered it and kept it safe through the winter. In the spring when the sun warmed it enough to wake up it began to grow.
When it came time to plant the garden the woman of the house, who loved her garden and took great pride in it, found the shoot standing well above the soil.
"I can't imagine how you got here," she said. "But you're here all the same and you look fine and healthy. I suppose one wild garlic is fine. I'll plant your kin in the row with you."
All the newly planted toes grew and grew. But instead of getting bigger the fall garlic stopped.
When the woman saw this she pulled it out. "Not much point having you take food from your brothers and sisters. Off to the compost pile with you."
"No ma'am, please. Put me in your kitchen. I can serve you more than any of the others. Give me a chance."
"The wonder!" said the woman. "A talking garlic."
"My winter outdoors has done wonders for my flavour. Put me in a stew whole and see. It won't take long, I promise."
"Surely you are the very Devil talking to me."
"Not the Devil, ma'am. Garlicky," and he bowed as much as a garlic could.
She brushed away the dirt and held it to her nose. Her eyes watered and her nose ran.
"You have some life in you, Devil or no."
And she brought it in the house. She made a pot of soup from the bones of an old rooster who'd crowed his last that very morning.
As it simmered in the pot Garlicky, who was hanging from a nail near the stove said, "Put me whole for just a moment and I'll add the most toothsome flavour to this old crower."
She did so and it was the best, most garlicky soup the family had ever had.
"This is wonderful, wife. You've grown the best garlic ever. I hope to have this again and again."
She smiled at the compliment and said she'd do what she could.
The fall garlic stayed on the wall near the stove. Every time the woman needed some spicing for a dish Garlicky offered itself for the job. Each time it did it cautioned her, "Only for a moment."
In dish after dish it worked its magic until one day the husband said, "It's not as flavoured as I like. Are we out of garlic?"
"No, husband. I do as I always do."
"Impossible. I can hardly taste it. Use more next time."
A few days later as she prepared a venison stew the garlic again offered itself and gave its usual caution.
"I must be under a spell to think you talk to me, garlic. And even worse that I obey. But my husband can no longer taste you. I need to keep you in longer."
"No. No. You must not. Only a few moments, ma'am. If I stay in longer I will die."
"Nonsense." She reached for the garlic, but only grabbed a bit of its papery covering as it ran from her outstretched hand. It ran and rolled. It jumped on the cat's back and rode it out the door. When the cat stopped to scratch it away Garlicky jumped off and ran into the bush not daring to stop until it was deep in the trees.
It threw itself down on the ground at the side of a game path. It was far away from the only life it had ever known, and it was all alone.
Happy noises of a family grateful for the good flavour of food were replaced by twitters and snorts and the rhythmic pounding of wing beats drawing closer and closer.
A strong billed robber bird parked beside the bulb. "You look tasty."
"Oh, I am," said the garlic and then wondered if bragging was such a good idea.
The bird plucked the garlic off the ground and secured its bill around it. At first Garlicky struggled to get out, but when the bird soared past the tops of the tall pines it stopped. It was much too far to the ground.
The bird, heading for a landing, squeezed its bill tighter.
"Yuck," said the bird as a bit of fresh garlic juice landed on its tongue.
The garlic rolled out of the bird's mouth and landed on soft moss. It rolled back and forth until it got enough momentum to move and then it ran and ran.
"Raaaaak," cried the bird. "Get away from me. You're awful."
"I'm wonderful," said Garlicky, relieved to learn the bird wasn't coming after it.
It ran and ran until it came to the edge of the forest and then rolled in some tall grass to hide while it rested.
"This will never do," said Garlicky after he'd rested. "I must find a warm kitchen and make myself useful."
It rolled out of the grass just as a dog and his boy ran by. The dog stopped for a sniff and cocked his head at it.
"Whatcha got there, Hounder?
"Stinky." The boy curled his nose at it and then shoved it in his pocket.
Later when he came home he presented his mom with it. "I found it out by the trees. It stinks, but it looks okay."
"I'll throw a toe in the soup tonight."
"No," screamed the garlic, drawing his toes in as close as he could.
"Fancy that. A talking garlic," said the woman. "What do you suggest? Tossing you in whole?"
"Oh, yes, please," said the garlic. "But just for a moment, mind. It'll be all you need. I promise."
And it came to be that Garlicky seasoned many a dish for its new family until one day they couldn't taste it anymore.
"It must be getting old," the woman mused. "I'll chop up a toe and leave it in."
Garlicky screamed and tried to get away, but the woman was too fast for it.
It screamed again when she snapped off one of its cloves and turned its head when she chopped it and threw it in the soup.
The garlic sat on the counter, crying bitterly over the loss of its clove.
"You don't know what you've done, human. You don't know."
"I know my soup will be tasty, garlic. No more out of you." And she carried it to the fridge and set it among the carrots and onions.
Time passed and many more meals were made. One by one the cloves were snapped off and chopped and the garlic cried.
Eventually only one toe remained.
"Hmmm. This won't be nearly garlicky enough," said the woman.
The last clove said in a small, fractured voice, "It's your own fault. If you'd left me whole you'd have plenty. Plant me in your garden. I'll grow a bit now. The winter will harden me and then next spring when I grow big you can use me whole in your cooking again. I promise."
The women brought the clove up to her eyes for a closer look.
"You've got a point, but that doesn't help me today."
She ignored the screams as she chopped up the final toe and tossed it in the stewpot.
"This isn't nearly as spicy as you usually make," said her husband. "Are we out of garlic?"
The woman dipped the ladle into the pot and scraped the last bit of stew into it.
She put it on her plate and then brought a forkful up to her mouth ignoring the small, shrill scream that came with it.
"We are now."