Day 5, Sunday – She had been so tired that she only woke up when the dream became unbearable. Actually it was yet another dream of his and hers, and was far more of each other’s psyches than either of them wanted to see.
There was a strange garden, tiers of flowers and strange dripping fruits glowing with their own light, nothing brighter than a led display, some blinking, some flickering, some discharging puffs of vapor or spores on regular intervals. He walked to a dais that looked like it was made for some kind of funerary ceremony or other.
There was no one in sight.
She sat up with some difficulty- she guessed that weird drink didn’t agree with her- and her phone was buzzing up against her left elbow. There was a message from Charlene.
“Hi. It’s about you’re friend. Call me ASAP. PS whatever you do, don’t touch the “flower”, even to try to get rid of it. It’s not what it looks like, and neither is he.”
If at all possible, she got even more nauseous than she had been. She texted back.
“Charlene are you up?”
A few seconds passed.
“I am now. What’s the story, morning glory?”
“Could you be any more cheesey?”
“That’s above my less-than-stellar pay grade.”
“Sorry. I needed to ask you something…”
“What does it do?”
“I’m not sure, but it’s not really a flower. It’s more like a hardy organism, that, with light
protection can grow anywhere.”
“How do you know this?”
“I have it from the only source I could find-the same guy who wrote the book I gave you- who
said that they used it for a crude form of terraforming.”
“R u serious?”
“I wish I wasn’t. If my source is correct… and mind you, he’s pretty wacked… Ur buddy there
or someone like him has tried to do this before, but never like this.”
“What happens if you drink it?”
“WHAT? Oh come on don’t tell me…”
“Just answer the question.”
“I don’t know… it was probably used as an energizing beverage when it was still here.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“I just… don’t trust his intentions, that’s all.”
“Lol it will be fine. If anything happens, I’ll keep him in line.”
“Okay… I trust that. Just don’t let him do anything else without him running it by you.”
“Got it. C u at our next appointment. Anything else?”
“Yeah… turn to page 16 in the book, but don’t read anything else. And if you do, don’t do
anything it says.”
“Ok, ok. Don’t make it so dramatic.”
“Just looking out for a friend, is all.”
“Ok…see you in a week.”
“A week and a day.”
“Ok, a week and a day then.”
She left the phone to charge and took the book out from the stack of calendars and junk mail from a pile on the kitchen counter. She sat down at the table and flipped to page sixteen, grudgingly not looking even at page 17
and covering it up with her right hand while she leafed through page 16 with the other.
It wasn’t a pretty picture. Not the entheogenic caricature of a bizarre, hybrid plant or the message in the antique and yet diy script (glued surprisingly well in old English text font and then copied like an old zine). What a strange mix of an underground “artifact” type document and a half forgotten grimoire. She read every word of the unbelievably cramped and small writing.
She didn’t like it.
Not one bit.
She shook him awake.
“Hey, wake up.” She said.
“B-b-b-b-b-b.” he stammered, shaking his head a bit. “I was just having the most exquisite-“
“Welll… now you’re not.” she said, sitting him up, and sitting down next to him with the book on her lap.
“Hrmmmm… what’s this all about?” he asked, blinking away sleep.
“It’s apparently about you.” she said.
“I don’t understand.” he said. “I haven’t been here in…”
“Yeah… I know. Ages.” She said, sighing and wringing her hands. “I read about the plant…mushroom… the, the stupid thing. On the windowsill.”
“I thought we said no secrets…”
She held out her hands.
“Don’t, just….don’t. And… I saw your dream, the one with the garden.”
He began to stare at a point at the floor despondently, not saying much.
“And, I learned about the drink.”
His breathing became shallow and rapid.
“Look if there’s anyone that should be upset, it should be me.” She said. “I just wondered if there’s any way to reverse it.”
“Reverse what?” he said sullenly.
“Don’t play dumb. You have a fine mind mister, probably finer than most on our Earth, which obviously you look down on,” she said sorrowfully.
“NO I DON’-“ he began.
“So if you can start something, you can reverse it.” She said.
“Well…in this case I can’t.”
“…what?! Ok then you have to come clean with me. What exactly it that stuff?”
“I don’t know how Earthers would explain it.” He said, getting up and pacing excitedly. “But it is said in the at the end of what we call The Time of the Great Visitation (he said something that sounded like a praise to something or other) that we could no longer come down to your Earth with ease. So your herbalists- who are not as good as ours- (sorry it’s just a fact)-“
She rolled her eyes. “Just get on with it.”
“R-right. Well your medicine men still wanted contact and secrets from us. But since our influence had gone rather poorly, we decided to teach them how to breed certain plants to synchronize their higher consciousness with ours. In order to continue to get hidden information, secrets of consciousness, and methods of medicine. This particular plant changes the atmosphere to be more suitable to the state of awareness in which we can more easily communicate with human beings.”
“That sounds like insane bullshit to me.” She breathed.
“What, you don’t believe me? You’re not short of evidence.”
“No. I’m short of tolerance for it. You should have been helping people prepare for the future. But you dragged them into the past instead.” She said.
“There is no future or past, for us. Only…”
She smacked him outside the head with the book. Not very hard, just a few times for good measure.
“Yo I’m tired of your shenanigans.” She said.
He leaned back and forward, shrugging.
“Oh, don’t give me that. How do you even explain yourself at this point?” she asked.
“You have grown important to me. But through my remembering I have learned of my mission here. It unfortunately takes precedence over my feelings…”
“You don’t have feelings.”
“You’re not excused. You don’t have any feelings for me. Somehow, through whatever you “Remembered” you forgot what was right in front of you.”
“I won’t make that mistake again.” He said, his eyes beginning to flicker dangerously.
“Oh, I know.” She said.
It happened pretty fast. He slashed at her with one of his taloned mits but his hands were two short and she took a step backward. While he screamed and took a step forward she grabbed a bat and hit him right in the center of the forehead. He went down instantly. She caught her breath as he lay there twitching.
Part of here hoped he wasn’t dead, and part of her hoped he was as she dragged him to the walk-in closet and barred it with every broom, tied it together with a bungee cord and put a chair up against it.
Later, she sat down in the kitchen with the cell phone and related the whole thing to Charlene, sweating and trying not to look at the scratched tabletop.
“Yikes. They are all the same, aren’t they.” She texted.
“No. For what I hope is the final time, I’ll just tell you: you just have no taste in them. And you don’t examine your feelings. So you only attract what you feel you need.” Charlene replied.
“Why this, though?” she asked.
“Well you basically wished for it. So it happened. How wasn’t up to you.” She said.
“Yeah, apparently not.” She said.
“What to do about the…stuff?”
“Er, it should go away depending on how much he gave you.”
“What can I expect?”
“Stop worrying. Just keep him there until tomorrow.”
“Yeah? Then what.”
“What do you think?”
She stopped texting uneasily.
“I don’t think I could do that.” she texted.
“Gonna have to think of something. Let me know what happens. And if he gets out…”
“I’m telling you, I can handle it.”
“No, you really can’t. That’s why this has happened. One way or another, this has to stop. Agreed?”
“Call me if you need anything.”
“Kay. Bye for now.”
She prepared a sandwich and sat down to eat it, putting down a plastic mat so she wouldn’t have to see his claw marks on the table. She felt melancholy all the while, half because she had fallen for the same trick that she often had, and half because of what she probably had to do with him at this point.
She figured she would at least try to talk to him to see if there was another way. It probably wasn’t going to go well, but at least it was (in her mind) worth a try. If it came to that, she would dispatch him and talk to the government about both him and the plant. If not, she was sure he’d be willing to help her dispose of it, she thought as she did the dishes, feeling a bit cramped but otherwise fine. Maybe things would work out after all.
The lights sputtered on and off a few times, then she heard the circuit breaker go as the power went out and the lightbulb over the sink burst, thankfully not into her eyes, although she had to take a small shard out of her left eyebrow.
“Ugh, just what I needed. What do you even want? Do I have to go back there?”
She heard some scampering.
“That’s it.” She said, going back to where the was. She leaned in and said,
“Would you like to come out?”
“Yes.” He said sullenly.
“Is there anything you want to say?”
“How about sorry.”
“Sorry.” He said, not sounding, in the least, very sincere.
“What are you sorry for…?” she asked.
“Fighting with you.” He groaned.
“And?” she asked.
“Not telling you about the plant.” He said, sounding a little more sincere. “Can I come out now? I’m kind of hungry.”
“No. Not until you’ve had a while to think about what you’ve done.” She said.
She heard a petulant groan, even louder, from inside the closed space.
“Yeah, well anyway, I have stuff to do seeing as I have a work week coming up.” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll find something for you to do.” She said, knocking her elbow against the door, recoiling as she felt a zap through it.
“Don’t even play like you’re electrifying the house. I live here too you know.”
“You know if you keep doing that you’re effectively blocking yourself in there.” She said, appealing to his reason instead. No answer.
“Hey, let’s make a deal. I’ll let you out, but can you at least let me let me know what’s up? You’re getting carried away and I’m getting kinda worried.” She winced seeing as she would just as soon hit him with a bat again. But she wasn’t sure he deserved it.
The brooms slipped out on to the floor as if pushed, and the bungee cord snapped and flew off.
“What was that for?” she asked.
The doorknob turned and the door creaked open slowly.
“So you don’t have to touch the handle. It’s energized.” He said.
“Thanks, I guess.” she said, nudging open the door with her foot.
“Hey, get it and shut it quick?”
“I really don’t want to play games-“ she said.
“Would you please, just this once?”
“Ok.” She said, slipping into the space. “Now I can’t see… say, what did you do with the hangars and coats that were in here?” she asked.
“You’re right, it is dark. Let me fix that…” he said. There was a shower of sparks and she saw him glow with colors like the plant had, only much brighter and more intense. Some pinks and a hypnotic pattern of oscillating bright blues around his body. But the most spectacular were his eyes, green, blue, and a toxic pink dancing and combining and competing with one another like some nauseating dance.
“Woah.” she said. “You can’t just turn on a light bulb? You have no idea what my electric bill is going to look like at the end of the month.” She said. He withdrew his claw from the socket and slumped his shoulders and head, holding up a lightbulb that lit up between his two fingers.
“Can I have that actually?” she said, cupping her hand near him. “Sorry it’s just cheaper that
He nodded. After a brief struggle, with the low light, she propped the door open and screwed the lightbulb in, pulling the chain and sitting down on the pile of old coats.
“Where are the hangers?” she asked.
“I didn’t want to risk harming you. They’re on your bed.”
“Cool. Were…you trying to impress me just now?”
He thought, then shook his head. “I was trying to make up for before.”
“You can’t, but you don’t need to.”
“No?” he asked.
She sighed, not taking her eyes off him. “No. You either do too much or too little. That’s your problem. It’s like you’re following a script of what you think has to happen.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He admitted. “Maybe I can learn something”
She nodded. “Maybe when you get back you Can teach…others… that there’s another way of doing things.”
“That’s not what you came in here to sat though…” he said.
“No. You’re right it’s not. I’m sure whatever you’re trying to do here is ok from you guy’s point of view, but it doesn’t fly here. Not that I think you guys are bad, I just know from my college bio that every time an organism tries to make life more comfortable for itself there’s ususally strife.”
“Not always.” He said. “You made changes in here and-“
“Yeah. But it’s a closed environment. I’m allowed to make changes here, it’s my home. But even then it affects other people, like your plant” she paused for effect. ““Which brings me to my main point.”
“Yes?” he said nervously.
“If you want to stay here, you have to get rid of it.” She blurted out. “That’s if.”
He clammed up. She thought he had stopped breathing, but he was just doing so shallowly.
“This isn’t a menu.” she said. “This is my house and it’s our planet. If you want to live on it with us, you have to try to make it better, not just for you and yours.”
He screwed up his face. There was an unfamiliar glint in his eye that she didn’t like at all.
“Will you at least hear me out?” she said.
He straightened up and looked down at his hands. “I think I just did.” He said nodding weakly.
“Well, there’s something that I’m not understanding. Care to clue me in at least?” she said.
There was a moment like the stillness before a storm. He closed his eyes and nodded.
When he spoke again, it was with surprising unity and coherence.
“We are not here to destroy. That is in the future and it is not for us to know the future, and though there is much here that is to our disliking, we are not tasked with destruction or creation. I would have liked to veer from this course if it spared you. But time is more active here than where I come from and was not on my side. So I would like that the course of things were different and our plan of action unnecessary, but the state of things is precisely what makes us act.”
“You don’t know jack about the state of things. What’s necessary about ruining our whole ecology so you can fail at something again? No one’s making you act any kind of way. Face it, it’s just you and a failed exercise from so long ago no one even remembers you were here in the first place except a miserable crackpot down south whom no one believes.”
He withdrew again.
“You are wrong.” He said.
There was an energy to the moment. A mind numbing sense of the now as both weighed an opposite calculus. He as a dying visitor with stakes in a great game. She as a humble mendicant who had been initially excited to try to help him. But he was other than he had seemed, and now there was little consoling him seeing as, from her perspective, he was either unused to hearing no, or, more likely (from what she had seen in their shared dreams) just sick of it on a permanent basis.
Regardless, she had dealt with this before. It was like dealing with the defensiveness of a wounded animal and the stubbornness of a man at the same time.
Regardless, her mind was made up.
“Well, I don’t understand that.” she said. “Ok, I do, but I can’t accept it as an answer.”
“What are you saying?” he asked, a bit more unsure.
“I’m saying no. I don’t care who you are where you’re from or what you think of us. Take your… kooky plant thing from my kitchen and find a way to leave. I know you can.” She said, bolstered by the fact that there was possibly more at stake than just her life.
“I told you, there’s only one way for me to leave.” He said.
She paused at this. “You can’t ride out the way you came in?”
“No. It’s one way. I’m banished until either I die or my time here is done and I’ve learned whatever it is my family wanted me to learn.”
“You can’t even contact them.”
He shook his head.
“They’ve done this before.”
“If this is how it’s been, no matter nothing you say or do makes sense.”
“You must think I’m insane.”
“No. I think you’ve been stranded somewhere you’ve never belonged in the first place with a bad roadmap.” She said. “I’m sorry if I upset you.”
His eyes watered and began to close as he began to shudder. But she wasn’t sure he was crying. The tears were thick and pattered black on his sweater. That was blood, or something else.
“What’s going on with you?” she asked.
“I was caught in a bind.” He said. “From our conversations, I realized if I returned, I would only be cast out, maybe to somewhere even less hospitable.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“And if I left with out you, we would just suffer from being apart.”
“So what’s happening to you?”
“Back in places that are sacred to my people, I studied with those of us who are gifted with powers of the mind. Our shared dreams are a result of seepage.: He opened his eyes, though she wasn’t sure if he saw her, it still stung oddly.
“Some of our abilities are neutral. Others are beneficial to others. These are the ones I’ve been using so far. But there are others that harm.”
She felt a lump in her throat. Even with what he was, this wasn’t what she had wanted.
“This form is a composite, a cheap copy of the form I occupy in my home. It was not hard to set off a protocol that would begin its demise.”
“That’s horrible.” She said. “What’s wrong with you? That’s not what I wanted at all.”
“I have something to ask you.” he said.
“Come with me.”
“What?! No. You did this to yourself, and now you have to see it through.” She said, despite not being sure of that at all.
“Please.” He said.
“No. You’re a coward, a hypocrite.” She said. “It’s not just me. You could have taken the whole thing down with you. It’s apparently what you live for.”
She got up to leave, but found the door was closed. She looked back, for the first time, quite Fearfully. He levitated from a lotus position and his eyes glowed a sickly yellow like old, hollow light bulbs, and focused on her.
That about did it. She kicked the door open and ran to the kitchen. Her thoughts raced but she worked through it, having been through similar danger before. If she couldn’t get out, she said to herself at least she could go down fighting.
He appeared near the table and she swiped at him with a kitchen knife.
It went straight through, like air.
“This is my house, you little rodent!”
“You forget yourself.”
“Look who’s talking!” she said, swiping at him again. The only sound was the crackle of static displacing air.
“We really should talk it over, don’t you think?” he said.
“No, I tried that with you already.” She said, inching toward the hallway.
“You don’t want to do that.” He said.
“Why the Hell not?” she sputtered, not turning toward the apparition.
“Because what’s talking to you now it the self from I unlocked the protocol.:
She shrugged. “What does that even mean?”
“It’s a vestige from before I decided to carry on with the mission. I sent it to you. But what you’ll meet in there isn’t the me you know.”
“So what do you suggest?” she said.
“Lets make amends now. Then, I can try to assuage myself from the path I am on.”
“From the path you’re on…” She looked back at him. “Never mind that. I’ll do it for you.”
She stomped off for the closet, which was slightly off it’s hinges. Of course, it wasn’t there. Her eyes stung both from betrayal and not really wanting to go through with this. Nonetheless, she wasn’t keen on him or his plan enough to stop.
She tried her room next, looking under the bed and in her own closet, to no avail. She went into the bathroom, but he wasn’t there. Pulled aside the shower curtains… nothing. Maybe he had gone somewhere to wane away where he wouldn’t be a danger to her.
Heart pounding, she went over to the sofa and just sat there for a few seconds. She dropped the knife on the table, still charred and filled with wires. Her mind went back to their various discussions and the day with Charlene. Slumped over, face in her palms, she combed over what her friend had said, and hoped to find some clue to defusing the warped machine her guest had become.
…like neon trapped in a tube, slowly radiating…
…he takes and uses energy in a particularly voracious way…
…can’t take care of him forever, he’s a wild, erratic spark of the cosmos in a temporary body…
…It’s his nature…
But the more she came back to it, the more that last line stuck with her. He was just acting out his nature, even though he had tried not to, in the end he had overridden it. Had chosen to. And that left her with only two choices. Flee and let whatever happened here happen, or confront him. She already knew what she was going to choose, perhaps in the way he had known what was going to happen.
‘Hey there.” she called. “I don’t know where you are, but I have a proposition for you.”
“Oh?” his voice called, echoing in her mind.
“Um, come out from where you are and we can talk about leaving together.” She said, though she had no intention of doing that at all.
“I would love to.” Said his strangely placid voice. “I feel the need to do something for me though.” He asked.
“Sure, whatever. If I do it will you come out and talk?” she asked, trying to sound pleasant but feeling terrified.
There was a sound of sparks, as if he were talking from a telepathic two way radio, like the one Jeb had that they used to play with.
`”Of course. Just come into the kitchen.” he said.
She got up slowly, putting the knife behind her back.
“Ok, I’m going.” She walked through where the table was. “Now, where am I going?”
“Excellent! Go over to the sink.” He said. His tone was maddeningly optimistic.
She took a few steps until she was staring at the windowsill and the strange plant.
“Alright, I’m there, I…”
She had to pause. The plant was undulating and had grown a pineapple like extrusion from where she had picked the fruit from it. It looked impossible as if grafted. Syrupy sap pooled around the base of the pitcher and a fly was caught in it upside down, legs kicking feebly up in the air as it drowned in the sugary stuff.
She noticed it had glassy, orb like protrusions in a ring around about the 2/3 mark on it’s body.
She wondered what they could be, until one of them blinked and she darted back a few steps.
“What in the world is with that thing?” she asked.
“It’s nearing the fruition, so to speak of it’s life cycle. If you want it gone, pierce one of it’s eyes with the knife you’re hiding behind your back and the plant will wither.”
She drew it, shaky at his sudden omnipresence in the house. She wondered what else he could do as she drew the blade and moved it toward the odd bloom, relieved that she might kill two birds with one stone.
“I do this and you come out from wherever you’re hiding.” She said. “No tricks?”
“No tricks. Just me. Dispatch the plant and I’ll appear, I promise.” he said.
After a few failed attempts, she stuck the nearest eye and was greeted by a torrent of sap and a shrill squeal that sounded like it was coming from a hundred mouths at once. She dropped the knife which clattered in the sink to protect her ears, but the noise was psychic as well as sonic.
She got down on one knee, feeble from the sheer amount of noise. There were steps behind her. The light was blocked out.
“No tricks, just me.” he said, moving toward her. She realized too late that she had left the knife in the sink, and staggered up for it clumsily. She felt a sharp tearing pain and found herself on the floor, eyes open but quite motionless. She found it odd that she was looking back at him at an odd angle, but of course by the time she had realized what had transpired, it was already too late.
“You are gullible, aren’t you.” he said, as he licked his extended talons and muttered feverishly in his nonsensical tongue. He began to step toward her, and she swore she heard singing as her vision faded.
It wasn’t a dream this time. It was something else entirely. It had to be after what had,happened…when, just now? Yesterday? She felt remote. But the singing was still there. She saw him leaning over her limp body. He seemed to be sobbing, but he was weeping those blood tears as if it mattered now. Even in this state she knew the difference.
Then the singing changed. She found herself floating upward, or more like being drawn, as she had no sense of her body and little of herself, and easily passed through the roof, the cloud cover, and even bits of debris in the upper atmosphere.
Then the song changed again as her vision pivoted to a far away point of light, neon and dull yet somehow visible to her. Only as she drew closer, or was drawn closer, could she realize what she was hurtling toward. It didn’t seem natural…or even possible. Yet there it was. As she approached the neon, charnel world she felt irradiated by a sense of unbearable unease, as if nausea had permeated the core of her now discarnate being.
After a while, she didn’t know how long, she woke up on the floor of her kitchen, feeling like she had just been hit by a tree but otherwise alive. She figured there would be more blood but for the most part she only felt the hardwood floor under her, and her arms and legs were out at odd angles.
She couldn’t move at first. She could only see the edge of the table and the ceiling. There was a
a loud sipping sound. Then a familiar voice grated on her ears.
“So, you too, eh? Figures… if they’d banish me, they probably weren’t going to let you in.” he said. A slurping sound followed.
“You…why…you little…” she began.
“Ah…let me explain. If I come back alone, I come empty handed. If, however, I return with something of value, that would probably be a place to start…”
She got the point and tuned out. She made an effort to get up and found it easy as thought. But as she feared, some things were wrong. Her limbs felt powerful, but stiff and somewhat inflexible at the joints. She got up too easily and felt numb and uneasy.
As a result she tripped over her own legs and slammed backward over the kitchen sink before trying to back track and instead going straight into the floor cabinet and doubling over the counter. All the while he seemed not to notice and continued overwrought speech.
She finally straightened herself up and straightened her head out as much as she could with both hands. She knew what her state was even as he tried to explain it to her.
“…and while you won’t last too long in this state and I will miss your presence,” he said as a tear of blood trickled down his eye, “I think I’ll stay here for a while, prepare the way for others like me.”
She tried to curse at him but it didn’t work very well to say the least.
“Oh, don’t be so vain.” he said. “I made you something. Sit down and have a drink, you look
Figuring she’d bide her time before making her move on him, she sat down numbly where he used to sit. There was a mug of something. She touched it with trembling hands. It was hot, and whatever was in it was dark and congealed.
“You know,” he said, taking a long sip of his own mug, “you humans could use to be more frugal. I was just seeing a report on how much food is wasted annually in one of your cities alone. We on the other hand, don’t waste anything.” He said, taking a long draught.
She grabbed the edges of the table and flipped it, taking his cup and smashing it on his face. It didn’t do the damage she had hoped, but he was so enraged the swipes of his claws were too wild and inaccurate. He clutched his face and hissed, becoming transparent and dissolving seemingly into thin air.
Momentarily, it seemed she had won, though it wasn’t clear at all how long she was going to last
in this undead shape. She didn’t bother with the plant, figuring it was enough for one day.
She went into the bathroom and took a look at herself in the sink. The left side of her face was lacerated in four places where his claws had gone in, but there was no bleeding, and her skin was an unhealthy pallor. Her head buzzed with explanations, but only one of them stuck.
She had died, and come back.
The phone buzzed in her room.
She shuffled in, and looked down at her screen.
`“Have you figured out what to do about Mr. Problem?”
It was a message from Charlene.
“I took care of him.” She texted.
“He’s gone, that I can tell. We had a fight and he just…vanished. Gone.” She typed in weakly.
“Tell me every detail.”
She fudged what had happened to her, but let her know how it ended.
Charlene paused at the end of it.
“Well… that is unfortunate.” She texted. “But it doesn’t change what he tried to do.”
“I handled him. His body was not as agile as his mind… probably getting worse.”
“Can you handle him if he comes back again?”
“I hope so. But something tells me he found a hole to crawl into. When’s the next time you can see me?”
“I’m going to be out of town this week. What does your schedule look like?”
“My boss says I can take off next Monday.” She shuddered internally. She wondered if she’d last that long.
“Then we’ll schedule it for the 9th. Everything else ok?”
“Yeah…” she said, considering telling Charlene about her current state, but not really feeling it would be best for either
of them right now.
“I’m not convinced, but it’s your life.”
“What time did you say for next week?”
“Er…Monday the 9th.”
“Yeah. See you then.” She deleted the text.
She went to her bed, and collapsed on it, before getting back up and piling her coats on it, and
crawling under. They gave no warmth, and she fell asleep to her muffled, irregular heartbeat. Her
dreams were black and murky.
She awoke later, at night, sparse slush falling outside her window. She texted Charlene.
”Hey it’s me.”
“It’s late, everything alright?”
She paused. She didn’t know if there was anything she could do for her or against him if he
“Yeah. I was just getting to sleep.” She fibbed.
“…Ok. You have my number. See you next week!”
“…Maybe.” she said, and turned off the phone.
She had the idea of going to the bathroom and getting out the first aid kit. She had not taken two steps when he materialized down the hall. He was smoking, red eyed, long clawed, and nightmarish, shrieking God only knew what. She stepped back to slam the door on him but he lunged in and hooked a claw under her rib, chanting something as his talons wound their way into her, managing to eat through her dead flesh by some unknown property.
He paused to gloat something obscene sounding.
“Go back to Hell.” she said as he grabbed both sides of his head and twisted with all her newfound strength.
His body began to blacken and smoke. His eyes flickered obscenely and then went out, his mouth open and his tongue lolling askance. She winced as his claw slid deeper into her side, a death reflex. That was all. She dropped him, and he fell like a stone into an ashy heap.
She stepped over his smoking remains and lurched forward to the hallway, leaning on the wall for support and pretty much falling through the bathroom door, slightly ajar. She simply followed gravity, grabbing onto the shower curtains and nonetheless falling with her own weight.
Perhaps only for lack of lighting she failed to get up, as it took her a few tries. She knew where the kit was-in the cupboard onto the sink. She managed to throw the stupid shower curtain aside but was laying on her back and could not budge. She noted bitterly that it probably wouldn’t have helped her much anyway, as her open wound began to hiss and smoke. He had done something, dealt her a death blow, as her strength began to drain, her temporary advantage gone.
She heard a few steps and a familiar shape blocked the feeble light from the doorway the doorway, a red and yellow eyed monstrosity, still smoking, stepping toward her with what looked like part of the flower in it’s skeletal hand. As her vision faded, it took a few faltering steps toward her and stumbled, crumbling to bone and dust on top of her.
Then, it was over.
For them, at least.
One Week Later
The day came and went for her next appointment with Charlene. Sensing something was up, Charlene set out in the middle of a downpour and a heavy fog pulled up to the house, but immediately went into a dull panic. She saw from the road that all the lights were down and her car was parked where it had been the last time she was over. A month ago.
“Ahh, shit am I too late?” She said, mentally admonishing herself for having had her phone off ever since the last call. She got out with her umbrella and moved the caution tape. She moved her car in. Something had happened, she was sure of it.
“Definitely too late.” She said somberly as she tried to force the door. Inside it was hot as… well, she had nothing to compare it to really, except maybe a sauna. She stepped on the humid rug and her heel caught on something.
She sneezed. She opened up the flashlight app on her phone. Even with the shades drawn it shouldn’t be so dark in here. She couldn’t see more that a foot in front of her because there was fog and water coming off the low ceiling. She pulled her shirt over her mouth and proceeded deeper into the mess.
Every second she spent in the waterlogged house was dangerous but she wanted to piece together what had happened. She went left first, into the living room. There was a pile of scorched mechanical equipment, cords stripped bare and what looked like the fragments of light bulbs, but she couldn’t be sure.
“That hungry little bastard…” Charlene said, kicking the table, swearing when the glass middle fell in due to the sheer weight on it. “She took care of you because she didn’t know what you were.”
She moved to open the blinds, but realized why things were so dim. There were dozens of what looked like air plants in neat tiers on each piece of metal. She tried to move them but found the deceptively soft and mossy looking roots mimicked the actions of her hand and touched her fingertips.
She stumbled back onto the wet floor. When she staggered to her feet, there was a faint hum, and both the moss and the petals of the strange, hanging flowers began to glow of an iridescence that gave no light but was beautiful in a terrible, almost undersea way. It was almost as if they were grown somewhere that there was no natural light, but made due with the air around them.
The situation almost slipping from her mind, she touched one of the flower heads, and to her surprise it trembled and released a spray of mist that had the same meaty smell as the flowers themselves. Each window began to hum and glow with the same inner light. She wiped off her phone, slick with green moss and trembling little roots, the ends of which stuck to her sleeve.
She tried to take a deep breath but coughed into her elbow. The pollen, or whatever it was, made the air seem even thicker than before. There was nothing more to see here in this room, and if there is, she thought, she didn’t want to in the slightest. She turned around and went to the right, slowly, feeling an increasing sense of wrongness. She didn’t notice, but the flowers turned toward her as she walked.
She nearly tripped on something on the floor. There was a tangled mat of those root tendrils leading to the next room, glowing faintly like an Ethernet cable. While part of her was excited because she had always told her friend that “everything was connected”, (a notion that, after today, could ironically use some re examination. ) She didn’t get a good sense of these languid, blindly questing things at all.
“Except, you aren’t blind at all.” She said with a lump in her throat. There, sitting on the sodden remains of a plywood shelf on the kitchen sink, was where most of the spindly roots, lead too. It wasn’t as awfully iridescent as the new drapes. It had a strange light of it’s own, like a deep sea jellyfish, different frequencies of red lights pulsing, strobing, and blinking along ridges along its spiny sides.
It looked almost comical, with something like a pineapple and a dragon fruit for a body, and a succulent for a hat, glittering with green and having a pink fleshy flower with a drooling, red bulb for a center which hurt to look at for even a second. But she knew it meant business.
She took a tentative step toward it, and backpedaled against the wall as a weak electric current went into her foot. She managed to keep her phone from hitting against the ancient wood floor. She had long ago passed her youthful notion of being a universal helper, and knew when she was out of her league. She saw that the refrigerator was covered in vines as well, but resolved not to touch anything unless absolutely necessary.
“I hope you’re in here, somewhere.” she said.
She backtracked, and followed the long hallway, which she had never gone down but was the only other space in the house. The ground… or floor… was marshy and smelled like some kind of mold or other. She looked down. Ankle deep water and bits of wood and other, less desirable things. She guessed she could come back with a gas mask, but as she regarded the pulsing vines under the peeling wallpaper she didn’t think she would be able to.
On the left, there was a faint trickle and what she guessed was the source of the flooding… other than the strange plants, which despite having a power source that was helping them along seemed to be drawing air and churning out something that was turning the atmosphere of the house into something more favorable for their use. She decided uneasily that whatever they breathed, it sure as heck wasn’t H2O. It was too acidic and pungent, and in fact was starting to make her eyes water.
She opened the bathroom door and a torrent of water spilled out. She couldn’t see in there, but it looked like there was black, tarry stuff on most of the tiles.
“Nope, nope, nope.” She said. “Not going in there at all.” She said, closing the door as tightly as possible, though it snagged on something. She wasn’t about to reach down into that water without having to. She turned away before she could see something twitching in the bathtub, and waded through the murky water into the bedroom. She avoided the bed, which was charred with more broken appliances, and went straight for the nightstand, which had on it the slim, black volume Charlene had lent her.
She grabbed it and walked out, pausing at the bathroom. Did the door slam shut from the action of her wading through the water, or was there something alive in there? She hurried past, again feeling she was, once again, way above her pay grade here.
She opened the door and stumbled onto the deck, the cool air mixed with the humidity on her skin not doing her any favors. She sputtered and took a series of deep, shuddering breaths. The door slammed shut behind her. Made her way out.
“Thank God, that’s over.” She said, walking off the deck, down the short steps, and to her car.
She heard a hideous groaning behind her. She turned to look and the upper roof caved almost straight down into the lower level like the latter was made of sodden matchsticks. Foul water and other detritus seemed flowed out of where the windows and doors were. There may have been more upstairs, but she had done what she had come here to do. Perhaps whatever had taken root in that house had, as well.
Later she leaned against her car shaking and struggling for breath, not yet unpackaging all she had seen. She almost hit a deer on the way home but managed to get there alright. She decided she had been through worse. Stranger no, but worse. She thought about her friend that night hanging out on the porch smoking a pipe and watching the cold, feeble December sky.
She had been inviting something like this with the way she had chosen to live. Made her glad she was single, she thought glumly. She knew it would turn out bad, but she had hoped her friend would at least have lived to learn from it… but perhaps they were just starstruck in a horrible, indescribably painful and cyclical way. She believed people got what they looked for and had to find out what cycle they were stuck in, in order to progress. Actually, after this, she knew for certain.
Thankfully whatever had taken up in there was sated, for now. It hadn’t really wanted to make any inroads into the world. It had taken what it wanted most, and moved on, destroying everything around it in the process as she guessed it’s kind must have done in it’s tenure on Earth. This whole horrible ordeal had been just a microcosm of that earlier, forgotten debacle.
What a sad existence she thought. Although it probably had made a choice, even before it was what it was, that had imprisoned it in it’s current pattern of birth and rebirth, it had a bleak trajectory and not much chance of breaking it’s own cycle. At least the connection was severed now, and there was no chance of it getting it’s way in the world. Not for now, anyway, she thought.
She idly touched her hand to the small volume, quite dry and lined with black velvet. There was no title. She had never really read it through. He felt a strong aversion. But she also felt curious. In the dismal light of a red, setting sun, she began to read it at first cautiously, then quite greedily as a screech owl called in the distance.