Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Flower





I was finishing some work in the lab when I heard the news. Ron, my top research assistant and personal colleague, came bursting through the swinging doors that marked the entrance to the lab... God, it startled me; and with a full-bodied muscular tension, I nearly passed out trying to suppress the threat to my composure. He must have been nearing a full sprint when he met the doors.

At the same time he burst in, he held a paper in his right hand, which he shook and strangled in his grip. I grasped a pipette in my own right hand - which I'm proud to say was and always is steady like a perfectly balanced scale.

"You gotta see this!" His voice shattered the lab's silence, as did the abruptness and speed with which he slammed the document down. A few papers fluttered off the workbench to the floor. A little annoying.

He stared me down expectantly, so I put the pipette on the bench and reached toward the paper, hovering my hand a moment above it. I brought it within reading range. 

__________


The object that my team and I had been observing for quite some time was now on the fringe of earth’s atmosphere. 

The math was solid: we tracked it's orbit and knew it was about to land, but our limited calculus prevented our knowing it's whereabouts precisely. 

Plus, it was last detected passing into a pocket of interfering solar radiation, at which point our radar went to shit. We couldn’t know where it was exactly, so what a boon when an East Coast laboratory caught sight of it on their local radar.

My eyes and brain finished scanning the memo, and my brain, crunching the data. I leaned back into the chair, dropped my arms to my sides, and fixed a blank stare on a clock across the lab. My eyes and face regarded the room without expression. 

Also lacking was any luster in my voice, so that I spoke as a monotonous automaton might. I was now sitting exceptionally rigid, and used only my head to look at Ron's still-stunned face.

“Ron, pack up, we’re headed to New York.” He gave a slight nod, walked halfway to the surprisingly hinged doors, and turned back around. He began to utter something, but quickly turned back around, and was gone.

I sat with myself now, but also with the whirs and hums of some sophisticated laboratory equipment. And some unfinished work before me. Before I began working again, I noticed my hand hovering once again above the document. I picked the pipette back up and resumed.

Some time had passed, and I had almost forgotten how my hovering hand just slightly quivered. 

__________


It was located in New York. That much we knew. But the data were inconclusive, so further investigation would be required to pinpoint its precise location.

Arriving home around 6 p.m., I couldn't rid my mind of the haunting radar blips. I found my husband in the living room, on the couch practically punching words into his laptop. Lord, I always think, it's as if he thinks he's composing a concerto on the damn thing. Presumably, he's working on a project of his, which usually involves some hefty HTML coding.

I was behind him and unusually quiet, so he hadn't detected my presence yet. Using this moment as an opportunity, I approached the backside of his floating head, and put my hands over his eyes. I could feel the soft skin on his face warp into a grin. He clasped my forearms, and I privately enjoyed the security that his strength conferred onto me. 

He chuckled his warm chuckle, lifted my hands away, and looked up to the ceiling to see me. His lips were upside down when he spoke, “Hey there Daisy, how did the research go today?" 

I gushed, "Very good!" I came  around the couch so that I stood square in front of him. “But, Brody, I think we've actually found something big this time."

"Like a… meteor?" 

"No, a big breakthrough, babe," I saw only after that within his peculiar smile was the sarcasm. "So funny… listen, I need to let you know what's happening." 

"You're serious. Right away - please dear! What's going on?" Real concern now laced his tone. "Is it about that anomaly?"

"Yes… it's landed." I sat next to him.

"What?"

I regarded him gravely. "It landed in New York somewhere. But even the local observatories lost track of it - its speed was too great, they said."

He looked straight into my face, wide-eyed and with worry glistening on his gaze. He didn't speak. I continued, "Sweetie, I hate to leave you, and so soon, but I'm catching a red-eye to New York - tonight."

I observed his expression, and sensed that he grasped the gravity of my work.

“Well, keep yourself safe,” he began, taking my hands into his. “And please bring back a souvenir or something.” He pressed his lips onto mine. I couldn't help but smile as we kissed.

__________


The plane ride offered nothing interesting. Suspended in the air - and in suffocating boredom - I tried sleeping, but the prospect of our discovery was too riveting. Though Ron, who was just a few seats ahead of me, could likely be heard snoring from the back of the plane. The anticipation made time stagnate for me, but we eventually arrived.

As it turned out, the object’s last known location was in a rural suburb, one densely populated with people and oaks and poplars and the darkest green vegetation, all of which served only to hinder our search efforts. Nonetheless, Ron and I set to work immediately.

We obtained some documents from the agency that had brought us to New York in the first place, which supplied us with new information as to the whereabouts of the fallen object; plumes of black smoke had been detected in a large Oak forest, a tree population part of Fowler National Forest.

For fear of some recent reports by locals, the others refused to become involved… But these were ghost sightings and other such nonsense, so it was to be Ron and I only who would enter the forest, which didn’t really worry me.

We were miles into the thickness of the forest when I suggested that we use infrared to detect the object's heat signature, which by my estimate, would still be radiating off a substantial amount of heat. Besides, it would be nearly impossible to do it with our naked eyes alone.

“Do you see that?” Ron pointed to a little red dot on the screen of the camera. 

“I noticed it, yes. It hasn't moved. You don't suppose an animal that small could emit a heat signature that intense?"

"Very doubtful," He scratched the back of his head. "Yet I saw another with similar intensity a moment ago. It appears to be just a few degrees off our current path. Might be faster to split up."

“I think you're right. Signal to me if you’ve found something. Good luck.” I patted him quickly on the shoulder, and we split.

The density of trees and underbrush made navigation Hell. I had to keep panning the camera to bring it back into focus after each of the fifteen near-death falls. 

It became apparent that the heat was dissipating, so I had to move more quickly. As I made my way toward it, I noticed a very sweet smell that seemed to emanate from the trees' very bark… 

And it was nostalgic in a way, as if some lost scent buried deeply in my memory emerged to my awareness again. Closer still, and all stimuli somewhere deep in my neuronal mass intensified twofold within consciousness, so that to this day I taste it the same.

For a brief moment, I became confused. As if I had dropped something on the forest floor, I got down to pat the ground, then filled my palms with fallen leaves, and giggled as I hadn't since grade school. My mind was foggy. I put leaves in my hair and laughed, a joyful laugh, a laugh that made the leaves feel its mirth.

A sudden dissipation of the debilitating fog left my brain dumbstruck. What the hell was that? I then observed a phosphorescent glow peeking through the trees, several feet away.

My approach was cautious. Dusk was upon us; my fear was mounting, as was a sickly sweet smell astride the darkening air. The mysterious object's glow waxed more brightly before extinguishing altogether into an anti-luminous rock.

So black was the rock that even light seemed sucked into its void. And standing only a few paces away, the detail eluded my eyes. I got closer still. Heat waves chiseled the cold off my cheeks, while each photon evaded my pupils. It should not still be so warm, I thought.

Despite having never encountered such an object, I felt drawn to it; I was aware at once that it produced the wonderful aroma among the trees, for the scent peaked to dizzying proportions. Then the residual taste of confusion assailed my tongue. Ignoring this, I was compelled to circle it. 

Then it caught my eye. Something colorful on the ebony boulder. I moved closer. Still nondescript… a flash of darkness came over my mind and my vision, then a spectral blur of colors and chaotic patterns.

The kaleidoscopic rainbow-noise and its backdrop of blackness suddenly receded back into a single fuzzy but colorful image. Then it came into focus. A flower.

__________


The blooming flower had vibrantly green petals, and a supernal stem of orange that contrasted with the shadowy surface of the black monochromatic rock. The center of the flower’s head was crimson, and appeared wet and sticky. Whatever the substance, it ran down a petal onto the stem like streaking blood. 

The roots, I noticed, didn’t have the fine hairs that most plants need to facilitate water absorption. Stranger still, they were just as orange as the stem. The porous rock allowed the contiguous color to grow into and out of its many-holed face, so that the orange roots seemed to penetrate to its core, to its black heart...

I found myself wholly possessed by a surreal stupefaction. The nagging brain fog was back with greater force, though this time I was not confused, but content—and utterly focused on one thing. The flower’s crimson center.

 Its allure was unbearable for me, its beauty unmatched by any other I had seen in the plant kingdom. The foreign nature of such a plant should've made me extremely cautious, yet I was only capable of inching closer to it, and longed to take it from the rock. 

My hand finally made contact with the smooth surface of the stem. It was cold. I held in one hand its whole body, and pulled it from the rock. 

To my surprise, it came gently, almost willingly, from the rock into my grip. Not a single root was ruptured. They hung from the flower, like lifeless tendrils that once anchored it. I quickly put the flower into my travel bag, and called Ron over to see the rock.

__________


“Oh my god, this is it,” Ron stared into the black void, lost in it like the trillions of light particles living somewhere within.

“Yeah, it is…" I was a bit distant. I made an effort to focus. "Let us get a sample and take it back to the lab, we’ve got some research to do.” I never revealed the little detail about the flower that was growing from the rock’s black edifice. I felt I had to learn some things for myself. 

“Hey, one more thing,” Ron touched my shoulder as we started walking.

I turned around slowly but my mind, quickly. I responded, “Yes, wha-what is it?”

“You smell really good.”

__________


I arrived early Saturday morning. Still in my travel bag, the eminent flower shared its delightful aroma with the house, and it didn’t go unnoticed.

“Welcome back, love - what is that amazing smell?” Brody's smile was glowing.

“As if I’ve never come home with a new perfume, Brody. I’ll interpret your question as an affirmative to my decision to wear it?”

“Affirmative.” He stabbed at my words with sarcasm.

I quickly justified my decision to leave mention of the flower out; I would surprise Brody with it in the morning! I wasn’t a botanist, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to put it in a vase with water... Even if It didn’t grow in water, surely it needed some. But all my assumptions at this point had proven wrong. Could the flower’s orange tentacle-like anatomy even be called "roots?" Was it even a flower?

I put a glass vase out on the kitchen table anyway, and guided each root through its glass bottleneck. The roots—if I can call them that—were twisted together at the bottom in a heap. I left it there, allowing the sweet natural perfume to engulf the air. I could smell it as I ascended the stairs, and even as I closed my bedroom door. 

Brody already sat on the bed, hunched with his laptop. Something came over me with great speed. As if Aphrodite herself created the sensual odor of the flower, I felt the tugging carnal urges of sexuality rush into my bloodstream. There would be a big bedtime celebration for my discovery, I thought.


I woke up to my alarm. I was late for work. I turned over and saw Brody sleeping. Such a sweet man, tuckered out from last night’s fun. I was very fortunate to have a mate that was as understanding as he was, so thoughtful and intellectual all at once, a perfect bundle. And his stamina... There isn't a thing I could call to mind that he didn't know about me. I detested having to leave him to go to the lab each day, but I loved my research, and he understood - everything.

But there was no time for idle observation of the man I loved - I was late. Besides, there was a discovery awaiting me at the lab. So stoked was I to get there, I had forgotten the flower in the kitchen.
__________


My breaks tore to a stop in the parking lot of WW Labs LLC. I noticed Ron’s car. He had arrived so early. But after finding the fascinating rock, his enthusiasm was unsurprising. I got out of my car, and walked toward the small building in which my lab was perched, patiently waiting for me to get to work.

I noticed an abnormal quietude upon entering the building. Nobody was there. Research papers scattered the tables in my lab. So much work to do - the rock! I realized that I didn’t see it on the rack where all new specimens were placed. I scoured the lab, thinking for some reason it might be hidden among the papers... I gave up fast, and instead went to confront Ron about it.

The ambient temperature felt colder than ever before. The air was still, but a slight and sweet odor moved through halls. I could’ve imagined it. I continued down the hall until I stood right outside Ron’s office door. I froze, and listened. Nothing. I touched the slate placard with his name, “Ronald Weir,” that was a bit misaligned on the door. That always bothered me. I gave it a little knock. No answer. I knocked harder.

“Ron? Ron, what are you doing?” I found myself having to suppress a little frustration. “Can you please come out of your office so I can talk to your face?” The ambiance of the building itself was enough to put me on edge; silence like this was uncomfortable to my mind, as the lack of auditory stimuli made me hear things that weren’t there, pushing me closer to the edge.

About a minute passed before I tried the door handle. Unlocked. I opened the door slowly and put my line of sight askew; if I was going to see Ron engaged in some activity that might put shame to his ancestors, my peripheral vision was the most I would allow . What I walked into, however, was far worse than any petty thought I could have.

Ron was lying face down on the tile with both hands at his side. My stricken stomach dropped; a paralytic pause prevented me from moving a single muscle forward. My eyes were set directly on the scene. The pause was brief, and regaining some control, I crouched next to him.

I was mumbling to myself, “You okay, Ron? Ron, you okay?” I poked my finger into his lower back and recoiled my hand. It was hard - not just stiff, but solid. Then I noticed a barely-perceptible undulation from under his shirt; it cause wave-like ripples in the fabric of his shirt. I had touched one. Out of a mixture of morbid curiosity and the need to prove this wasn’t a dream, hallucination, or some other drug-induced state of paranoia, I decided to turn him over.

Humans weren’t that heavy, I knew. So with an odd amount of effort, I rolled his body so that he was on his back, revealing his wide-eyed face and grotesque grin that was frozen in time. The fear was excruciating as it overwhelmed my senses. I jumped to my feet, the image before me emblazoned into my consciousness. The sweetness seemed to concentrate then stagnate at the base of my nostrils, inducing a wave of nausea. I closed my eyes momentarily.

I opened them again. His face was varicose, and many of the vessels appeared to have burst in his cheeks and eyes. I backed blindly and bumped into the door, then I saw the rock. The ebony material sucked light into its black singularity even now as Ron’s fingers folded over it, so tightly that blood still oozed from his palms. I could no longer stand the scene.

I rushed from his office to my lab, grabbed my coat and purse, but then another thought made me panic to a stop: the flower that came out of that thing was in my home… in my home with Brody! Animated by that reminder, I nearly tripped out of the lab just as my mind was doing, and drove dangerously fast in what would be a record-time arrival onto my driveway.

__________


I nearly slammed into my front door, which was locked, and fumbled with my chain for the right key. I swung it open and darted into the kitchen. The vase was empty. The remaining water had a crimson hue. Maybe Brody took it out. Why would he? He probably just threw it away... No rationalization would be sufficient enough to save me from bolting up the stairs. I suddenly stopped at the second to last step. A sweet smell lingered. My bedroom door was ajar, and I could see through the crack an open laptop - Brody’s. The screensaver cast a gentle glow on the headboard of the bed. The bedroom light was off.

Too afraid of what I might find I stayed put on that second step, and yelled multiple times, “Brody!” My voice trembled. There was no response. “I need you to come down if you’re in there. I need to talk to you, hun, something bad has happened at the lab.” The glow on the headboard grew warped by my tears.

I slowly ascended the last two stairs, went into the bedroom, and flipped the lightswitch. Brody wasn’t on the bed. There were black rocks, maybe a dozen, sitting on his pillow. I glanced toward the bathroom door, also ajar. The bathroom light was on. Little black pebbles seemed to create a trail into the door’s narrow opening. I approached the door with reluctance, and brushed open the door with the back of my hand.

The sound waves shot out with my screams, which must have traveled to each neighbor’s ear. Brody laid in the bathtub, black pebbles littering his chest and filling the bathtub so that he was atop a mound of ebony stone. The flower sprouted from his forehead with a spectacular bloom, lively and glistening. The orange tentacles weaved in and out of his skull, fracturing the bones beneath the skin so that shards protruded from his face. I could no longer recognize the man.

I was still screaming his name, in vain. His body seemed to breath, and my bowels nearly fell from my ass. His chest seemed to heave. Was he breathing? I stepped a little closer, looking into his distorted face. I was greeted with a grotesque smile, then a phlegm-choked exhalation that began parting his lips. This brought with it a tendril, gliding smoothly out from between Brody’s lips, slicked with blood.

Then came the slow removal of each eye as two more roots extended from either orbital cavity; then still more emerged from his legs and chest; then the hellish roots curled back and burrowed into his body, reemerged, and then burrowed again into his body. The one’s slithering just beneath the skin cause the flesh to undulate. The crimson center of the flower seemed to ooze and grow and breathe greater than before. The petals were taking on a reddish hue. The sweet aroma was never so powerful.

The wonderfully sweet smell mounted, and my senses were overcome; it filled my lungs and danced on my tongue. I licked my lips and looked at Brody’s writhing corpse… The taste was so sweet. The smell, so soothing. 

And forever the sweet flower’s flavor would linger.

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