It’s an honour to welcome Dan back to Kendall Reviews with another remarkable horror short. The response to both The Black Cloak Of Its Wings and Inheritance has been wonderful so it’s a huge honour to be able to bring you Good Weed.
Good Weed features in Dan’s latest collection Night Terrors, which you can download by joining the Rotten Row Readers Club for FREE. Links to the club can be found at the bottom of this post, but first, please sit back, relax and enjoy some Good Weed.
By Dan Soule
Jerry always made Manny wait. He had his back turned to the little handyman, while he squirted a few sprays of water over the jaws of his Dionaea Muscipula and the thin stemmed Sarracenia. He tenderly touched their forms as if preening their hair before a beauty pageant, and then reached into a drawer of the cabinet on which they stood, producing a small box. He pulled a pair of tweezers from his top pocket, which sat alongside a neat row of pens.
Manny shuffled from foot to foot, rearranging his clothes, which had grown too big for him again or rather he had shrunk too small for them… again.
Jerry opened the small box and delicately picked a dead fly up by the wings. He stroked it across the mouth of the Dionaea Muscipula until its rubbery jaws snapped shut on the insect. Jerry gave a wry smile and pulled out the tweezers. Replacing them in his pocket next to his pens, Jerry looked sideways over his shoulder at his underling.
“Your uniform doesn’t fit.”
“Sorry, Mr Spinda.”
“Don’t say sorry. Fix it. Isn’t that your job anyway, fixing things? Don’t we pay you enough, Manny?”
“Yes, Mr Spinda.”
“Well then, earn it,” Jerry picked up a clipboard from his desked and flipped to a task list. Manny fumbled with his cap in his hands. Pulling a pen from his top pocket, Jerry’s thumb jabbed down on the button, ejecting its nib like a sadistic school nurse on vaccination day. He encircled seven of the thirty tasks on the list, before handing it to Manny.
Holding the piece of paper in one hand, while pulling up his trousers with the other, Manny inspected his day’s work.
“Well, why are you still standing there? You got things to do. The circled ones, in case you haven’t understood, are the most important jobs. I want those done by lunch time, at the latest. Comprender, mi amigo?”
Manny looked at the list again. The circled jobs might well have been the most important, but at least four of the five were also probably the most difficult. Each was half a day’s work, if it was to be done properly. Manny did like to do things properly, but then Mr Spinda did like his long lists. In fact, the only thing Mr Spinda liked more than a long list was a long list with lots of ticks against each task. Manny scratched his head, mentally sorted through the equipment he’d need, the best approaches to take, and health and safety requirements. It didn’t take him long. Manny wasn’t sure of the best way to break the news to Mr Spinda. This list was at least two days’ worth of work, with overtime. Mr Spinda disliked giving out overtime about as much as he liked lists. Manny didn’t get to open his mouth.
“For Christ’s sake! What are you still doing here? Get out, and don’t forget your CB this time. I want regular updates. GO.”
The word was shouted. Pieces of spittle flew from Mr Spinda’s mouth, spraying Manny like he was one of Mr Spinda’s carnivorous plants. Manny backed out of the room, head down. Mr Spinda sure was hard to work for, and he was right, Manny did need a new set of clothes. Manny smiled at that. With the next pay cheque, he’d happily buy a brand-new set of work clothes, with this Satyr badge proudly stitched onto his left breast. Of course, there was a time when Manny’s left breast was literally a breast, flabby and distended, along with the rest of his body. He had been pre-diabetic too and could barely walk. He went to Disneyland once and really wanted one of those scooters. Only, there weren’t any left, and by the end of the day, he was so exhausted that he was panting, sweat dripping off him, knees aching like the suspension on a rusty old self-drive car ready for the scrap yard. But then it all changed when Satyr had brought out Mana.
Manny hurried down the corridor, shrugging off Mr Spinda’s abuse. He bore it happily. As far as Manny was concerned Mana was a miracle. Okay, it was the product of science, but science was doing God’s work. Manny got slimmer and slimmer by the day and he was no longer pre-diabetic. He felt great, and all with one delicious bar of chocolate flavoured Mana a day. What was that if not a miracle? And it wasn’t only Manny. Once the world’s fattest country, America was now exporting its miracle all over the globe.
When the company relocated their main factory and research facility to just outside the town of Cotton, Massachusetts, Manny was the first in line for a job. He’d been there eighteen months and loved that in his own small way he was contributing to the success of this great company. He was proud that his ability to fix machines gave him access to places people could only dream of, inside what had become, as of last year, the biggest, the most important company in the whole world.
Manny swiped a key-card to his office. Everything needed a key card in the complex. He picked up his toolbox and checked the list. If he’d been asked, Manny would have prioritised some other tasks first, but he wasn’t about to tell Mr Spinda his job. He looked at the second circle on the list and smiled. He’d head there first.
The door read ‘Research and development.’ It was a door requiring a higher level of access. Manny was allowed through this door only with the approval of whomever was behind it. Manny swiped his card and waited.
“Yes?” came the curt reply.
“I’ve come about the water filter.”
There was a small hiss before the door slid open silently. Manny stepped over the threshold, toolbox in one hand, checklist in the other. His CB squawked to life on his waist. “Have you finished that first job yet?”
“Hello, Mr Spinda. Yes. I’m just finishing up now and moving on to the second one,” Manny lied. The next door he came to did not require a card. It sensed his approach and parted to let him enter.
A young man, glasses pushed up onto the top of his head, was bent over a microscope. His hair was a mess, and his clothes were as ill-fitting as Manny’s. The handyman stood waiting. Finally, Manny shuffled as loudly as he could and gave a small cough. The young man looked up squinting, pulled his glasses back down to his nose, and frowned as if puzzled to see a handyman.
“The water filter,” offered Manny.
“Over there,” the researcher was already turning back to his microscope as he pointed dismissively.
The young researcher pushed the glasses back up his head and buried his face in the microscope once more.
Manny began to change out the filter, under the sink. “Hey, mister. Did someone already try to fix this?”
“Yes.” The man in the white coat didn’t look up. “I got tired of waiting.”
Manny pulled out the broken pump, inspecting the botched job. “You want some help with your work?”
“Not unless you know about gene splicing?”
“You know anything about water pumps?”
The young man continued to look through the microscope. “No, I don’t. But it’s not exactly genetic engineering, is it?”
The handyman had nearly finished, screwing the filter back in place. “Very true. So, how are we saving the world today?”
“Increasing the weed’s cannabinoid yield,” the young man said absently.
“What will that do?”
“More pain relief; no side effects.” The scientist noted something on a pad.
Manny shook his head in admiration. “Why do you call it the weed? It doesn’t seem very nice for such a miracle.”
Not looking up the researcher replied, “I call it the weed because, well, it’s part Cannabis and part Bramble. They’re both kinds of weeds. Plus, it grows like a weed. It’s very resilient, because we took the genes for hardiness from both those plants. Also, it’s science, not a miracle.”
“It is to me,” said Manny, pulling out the waist of his trousers, showing the spare inches to himself.
The young man cast a glace over his shoulder. “Weight loss! How much?”
The scientist gave a small shrug into his microscope. “That’s about at the mean average for consumers.”
“Saving the world one delicious serving of Mana at a time,” Manny said to the scientist’s back, while he marvelled at the lab around them. The young man didn’t respond. Manny checked his list and picked up his tools.
“Goodbye,” Manny said, but no one replied.
Moving down the hallway the sound of a classical piano drifted closer from one of the new promotional adverts flanking the handyman on animated white walls. Everyone was so beautiful and thin. So healthy. It was like a perfect dream, Manny thought. An older lady played the piano, her crippling arthritis gone. A man with silver hair and veins on his muscles vaulted a park bench, his grandchildren unable to keep up; he left them in his dust, just like his cancer. A woman with feline beauty and startling white teeth stepped out of a hologram of her former obese self, a perfectly thin butterfly born from a once grotesquely fat chrysalis. If he could, Manny would have liked to stop and watch them over and over again. The CB squawked on his hip.
“Manny, where the hell are you?”
“Just on the way to the nursery, Mr Spinda.”
“Hurry up, will you? Don’t take all day. The toilet in the flesh processing shed needs unblocking, asap. They’ve got crap all over the floor down there. So, now they are giving me crap, which means I’m going to give you…”
“Yes, Mr Spinda.” Manny said, clicking the reply switch. He had already skipped several of the items on the list, not that he wouldn’t do them. Rather, he would do them in the right order. If he kept moving, Mr Spinda couldn’t give him another spittle shower until the end of the day. And Manny would be on his way home thirty minutes later. Manny picked up his tool kit, put his shoulders back, his chest up and strode to the nursery.
His key-card was enough to gain access. However, a triple airlock system of doors separated the corridor from the nursery shed beyond. The first door was a simple airlock. The second door blew away contaminants. Manny closed his eyes in here. And before the final door, a series of different lights performed the final decontamination, of what Manny was not sure. When the final red light turned back to green, the door would open with another hiss. Manny stepped through into the enormous nursery shed, as big as several football fields.
The smell always hit him first, so fragrant and pungent. In one way it reminded him of being in his grandmother’s house, where every room was peppered with air fresheners, clawing at the back of his throat. The nursery didn’t smell of violets or lavender, however. The closest smell he could imagine was cannabis. Everyone in America smoked it legally now. It was like that only sweeter.
This was one of the big sheds, with four pens lined up side by side, each with plants at different levels of maturity, from seedlings, to the product-ready saplings. They were about to harvest the most mature of the plants. The guys were lining up the ‘Reaper’ box-harvester, which would snake up and down the length of the pen, pulling up each plant, cutting the body from the squirming roots. Then the body was stripped of its fondling outer-stems. Rich with pubescent pollen, nubile buds were mechanically plucked to extract the plant’s pain killing abilities. The head of each plant was decapitated by a rotary blade, culling two-hundred plants an hour. And finally, the body was sliced open and its starchy flesh harvested for the prized satiating crop of Mana.
Manny had been in the shed a couple of times when they were harvesting a nursery, and every time he felt the queerest of sensations. He could have sworn he could hear them scream. Nothing loud and ear splitting. It was almost like someone screaming in the next room, so faint he was never sure if he was simply imagining it. He’d asked one of the scientists in the lab coats about it once. Manny could tell the woman thought he was a little bit crazy. She told him that all plants have nervous systems, but not like humans. So, no, they didn’t nor couldn’t scream. If a scientist from Satyr told him that, it was good enough for Manny.
To get to the next job, Manny had to walk the length of the nursery, along the foot of all four pens. In the first pen, the plants were only days, maybe a week old, pushing small tendrils up through the nutrient enriched soil. Like a field of worms poking their head above ground after a heavy rainstorm, the tendrils squirmed slowly. Looking across the entire field, it appeared to Manny as if he were walking past a sea of tiny snakes, all writhing over one another.
The overhead changed colour throughout the day. Right now, over the infants, it was red, and the field undulated crimson. Sweet, ululating music played softly around the pen, from small speakers lacing the walls and strung overhead. Manny always had the same feeling, when seeing a nursery of infants. It reminded him of being a child holding his father’s hand as they walked into the reptile house at the City Zoo. Manny wanted to pull away, his legs carrying him far from the glass. He couldn’t explain why. He knew the snakes were behind the glass and couldn’t hurt him. But still something inside made him pull away. His sphincter tightened and the hair on his head felt as though it wanted to crawl off the scalp.
The second pen contained the adolescent plants. They had grown three feet tall. In the still air of the shed, their branches waved individually, rustling five-pointed leaves under heavy ultraviolet lights, to classical music. The susurrant noise of their rustling never stopped, but Manny could have sworn it became louder as he approached the pen, and that they turned towards him as if sensing his presence. He hurried along to Max and Tom, who were both setting up the Reaper box-harvester. About the size of a small van, it was exactly one-fifteenth the width of a pen. It would snake up and down the parallel lines until the entire field had been harvested.
Max and Tom hadn’t heard Manny’s approach over the rustling leaves. Max had his backside stuck out of the Reaper’s motor panel, while Tom passed him tools.
“Need a hand?”
Both men jumped.
“Shit! Manny. Don’t do that.” Tom dropped a wrench. Before he could pick it up, the root of the nearest plant shook out of the soil and curled itself around the tool. Tom slapped it away dismissively, and the root disappeared beneath the soil.
“Stupid, effing plant,” he growled, passing the wrench back to Max.
“Nah, we’re good, Manny. That vent in pen four is on the fritz still, though. It would cook the balls right off you.”
“Heading there now. Do you know what’s wrong?”
“Blocked, I think. Third time this month,” Max said, scratching his balls, before passing Tom a screwdriver.
The Reaper machine roared into life, just as Manny moved onto his next problem. Tom and Max hopped on the back and slowly set off down the pen. The adolescent plants rustled more fervently, and Manny was sure he could hear that imperceptible scream again, as the first of the plants was torn from the ground and processed by the machine. A grinding, macerating sound preceded the shredded waste of the plants ejected from the back of the machine, between Tom and Max.
The next two pens contained the juveniles. The football sized fields stopped moving when the handyman walked their perimeter. Manny looked out at plants. He’d never seen them so still. If he didn’t know any better, he’d have sworn they were watching him. Lights overhead alternated between green and violet. The auditory stimulation was a high frequency squeal barely audible to the human ear. At first Manny thought this was the scream he had imagined from the shredding of the adolescent plants. However, on second thought, he remembered it was the synthetic auditory stimulation pre-programmed by the Satyr scientists, optimised for the age of the plant, to create ideal growing conditions, along with the light stimulation, and balance of soil nutrients, and even harmonic vibration they ran through the soil. Manny had to be familiar with the system, as he was usually the first called to breakdowns. From what Manny could understand it was to turn certain genes on or off, not that he really understood what that meant. He understood enough to fix it to the manual’s specifications.
This part of the shed had the smothering heat of a jungle. And as Manny walked the plants continued to be silent. He got the stupid notion they were watching him and so he focused on good thoughts. The plant was godsent, and it had probably saved his life. It’s not easy to shed over one-hundred and eighty pounds and keep it off. Manny had lost bits of weight before, but never that amount and never kept it off. It had always come back and brought additional weight with it. That all changed when Mana came onto the market two years ago, initially just as a candy bar, and then a soda, and other foodstuffs came not long after that. It flew off the shelves. Manny like everyone else would queue for it. They’d queue right down the block sometimes. In the beginning, Manny had even resorted to getting it on the black market, paying two-hundred bucks for a few days’ supply of candy bars. And they tasted pretty good too. Satyr floated on the stock exchange to get additional capital and then they were off, increasing production. When they moved the big plant here to Cotton, Manny couldn’t wait to work for them, to give something back, to just be around them. And now it was so amazing, he thought, that they were opening new plants, not just all over America but all over the world. Nurseries for Mana were being established in the UK, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, China, South America, anywhere that had an obesity problem, and some that didn’t.
Manny turned the corner of the nursery, starting up the long side of the pen to where the vent was situated in the middle of the corrugated steel walls. Sweat began to blot darker spots on his back and armpits. His happy thoughts were still not enough to distract him from noticing the subtle shift in the two fields of juvenile plants. They made the lightest of rustles. A gentle wave of movement en masse, as if they were re-orientating to the location of the handyman, keeping their eyes on him. But Manny knew they didn’t have eyes. They didn’t have brains. Yet they moved. But they were only plants, plants with amazing properties, plants that were saving the world. Yes, that’s what they were, and nothing more.
Manny stopped and looked up and saw the vent about twelve feet up. A ladder would be a better idea, rather than the rungs that lead up to it with only precarious foot and hand holds to use. There was usually one in the storeroom, in the top corner. He was about to go and get it when his CB squawked on his hip.
“Manny, where are you? The guys in transport need their lights changing. And there’s a hole in the fence on the west-side of the perimeter. That needs sealing up before you take lunch. God damn it Manny! Where are you?”
“I’m in the nursery, Mr Spinda.”
“The nursery! God damn it, you lazy…” Mr Spinda didn’t finish what he was going to say. Manny could guess what it would have been. “Get a move on.”
The fact that Manny was in Mr Spinda’s office less than thirty minutes ago didn’t seem to matter. The man wanted miracles. Manny was pretty sure he wasn’t going to get any lunch today. Still, that didn’t matter; he wasn’t hungry anyway. He had a Mana bar for breakfast. He probably wouldn’t need another one until bedtime. And if he washed it down with a Mana Cola, well, he might well not eat the whole of the next day either.
Weighing up his options, Manny decided that he could probably do without the ladder. These vents normally just needed a filter pulling out and tapping off. It would be fine as long as a circuit head hadn’t corroded on a panel elsewhere stopping the airflow here. If that was the problem, Manny might as well get a bar of soap and earplugs and enjoy the spittle shower Mr Spinda would give him.
He climbed up the rungs and the screws came out easily from the vent’s casing. Manny popped each on the side of his magnetic screwdriver, and then lifted out the cover and held it in one hand. Putting a screwdriver in his teeth, he fished his torch from his belt. The beam alighted on a large drift of pollen. It was more than was typical, and there was something else he couldn’t quite make out, seeds he thought, with surprise. The handyman had never seen seeds on the plants before. They were harvested before they reached maturity, so Manny didn’t think they could produce seeds. But what did he know? He was only the handyman. There was nothing he could do here. He’d have to check outside. Maybe the root of the problem was there.
Clipping the torch back onto his belt, he missed, and it tumbled to the ground.
Manny swore in his mind, hustling down the rungs set in the wall.
By the time he reached the bottom, his torch was nowhere to be seen. The plants nearest the edge quivered in a small knot, their branches and leaves sliding and slithering, like a mass of snakes in a glass case at the zoo. Manny looked out over the two large pens. The whining music screamed softly. The green and violet lights cast their spectral light. All the plants, but for the small knot, did not move. Reaching out a hand Manny hesitated, hovering inches above them, thinking about whether he really wanted to delve his hands into the squirming knot to pry the leaves apart to retrieve his torch.
The CB on his hip clicked with static.
Manny crouched as he parted the leaves in the writhing mass. He thought they would feel cold and slimy, like reptiles. Instead, they were warm and velvety to the touch. They explored his hands as he moved them apart, gently twining around his fingers and palms. There was a gentle tugging, but they were weak. The torch was there, with the same exploring branches undulating over its cylindrical surface. Manny grabbed hold of the torch and pulled. The plants pulled back like a child not wanting to give up a toy it wasn’t supposed to be playing with. When Manny retrieved the errant item, some of the young branches and leaves snapped, releasing a waft of sickly aroma, not as pungent as the adolescent plants, but unmistakably the smell of Mana.
Manny rushed back down the side of the pen and along the bottom of the four fields. Tom and Max were making good progress harvesting the adolescent plants. Half a field of pulp lay behind them, while Bach played melodically.
“Manny, where are you?” his CB shouted.
Manny swiped his card to exit the nursery. He walked quickly, having to make his way through the facility, pick up a decontamination tent, get outside and all the way around to the vent on the far side of the building, and then erect a tent. This was going to add a significant amount of time.
“Manny, are you there? Godammit, answer me.”
Manny sighed. “Yes, Mr Spinda. I’m here.” He explained what he had to do.
“You’ll never get through that list today,” the supervisor shouted back.
Manny didn’t know what to say. He could only go as fast as he could do the jobs.
“Well, what are you going to do about it, Manny?”
“I’ll get it done as quickly as I can Mr Spinda.”
“You make sure you do. It’s not hard to find another handyman.”
“Yes, Mr Spinda.”
Manny was back at the maintenance store a little out of breath. He swiped his card. The decontamination kit was packed away in a large duffel bag. Although it was only a tent with the plastic canvas, and structural poles, plus a small air conditioning unit, it weighed a ton, and Manny would need a dolly to move it. He had his hands on the dolly when Mr Spinda barked down the CB again.
“Have you found out what the problem outside is yet?”
Mr Spinda must have superhuman powers, thought Manny. To him it seemed physically impossible to get from the nursery pens all the way through the building and outside, and diagnose the problem and fix it, in the time Spinda thought it was possible. Even with all the weight he’d lost he couldn’t move that quickly. He didn’t think anybody could move that quickly, and so he let go of the dolly, picked up his tool kit, and went to see if the problem couldn’t be solved without the decontamination tent. It was probably nothing. Just leaves blocking the filter. Yes, it was against protocol, but Mr Spinda didn’t seem to mind that as long as the list was going to get finished today. And Manny wanted to have a job tomorrow.
Sweat was beading on his forehead by the time he rounded the corner outside of the huge industrial shed. It wasn’t easy running with a stepladder. The shed was quite close to the perimeter fence. The grass hadn’t been cut too well, and the path was being encroached. Weeds and tall grass invaded the fence line, clogging the mesh. Just as he was coming up to where the vent would be, Manny noticed the external fence Mr Spinda had mentioned. The wire mesh seemed to have been damaged and pulled apart, maybe by cattle, could have been coyotes, or wild pigs could cause a lot of damage, the handyman thought. Not only that, the mesh had become tangled in the briar of weeds. The plants would have to be hacked and tied back, before he could cut away the damaged piece of fence and put up a new section.
‘Oh well,’ he thought, ‘I’ll tell Spinda later; I can only do one thing at a time.’
The ladder wasn’t quite high enough. At the very top Manny was on his tiptoes to reach the vent. He’d made a couple of divots with his feet to put the legs of the ladder into to stabilise it. It was enough to stop it teetering completely, but Manny had sat through enough health and safety talks to know that Americans would pack everything in cotton wool if they could, well, excluding Mr Spinda, of course.
One of the screws dropped into the grass below. No big deal, he could find it later or put in a replacement. The ladder wobbled a bit as he slipped the screwdriver away in his pocket. Manny grabbed the top of the ladder, wobbling for a moment like a clown trying the trapeze at the circus. He got his balance and felt more confident when he took hold of the vent. Wiggling it, the pungent smell of Mana wafted over him. It was darker and earthier then he’d ever smelt it before. There was a rustle from behind him. Still clinging to the vent Manny looked over his shoulder. There was nothing there. It was probably an animal moving through the weeds. He could already see what the problem was. It shouldn’t have been possible, but this vent was clogged with a huge amount of pollen and the things he’d assumed were seedlings. If he was really careful it wouldn’t be a problem.
The vent was nearly out. One more gentle coaxing tug should have done it. It was so close. Manny firmed his grip. He still had good balance, even though the ladder gave a small teeter beneath his feet. It was nothing to worry about.
The CB on his belt broke his concentration. “Where the hell are you, Manny?” were the words that barely registered with the handyman. The vent sprang loose, releasing a cloud of green pollen that dusted Manny’s entire face and upper torso. He inhaled it, choking. Losing his footing on the ladder, falling back while still holding the vent in his hands above his head. The ground came slowly towards him, and he hit it with the full force of his back. It knocked the wind out of him, and with it a puff of pollen exhaled into the air above him. There was a pain in his back, and a swooning ache in his skull. The little handyman was vaguely aware of the voice of a very angry man shouting something off in the distance. The shouting voice gradually became quieter and quieter until he heard nothing, slipping into unconsciousness.
Manny awoke feeling amazing. He was on the ground looking up at the sky. He began to giggle, remembering he’d fallen from a ladder, and that he should be lying there in agony with a broken back. It wasn’t that he felt nothing. It was that he felt sensational, euphoric even. He took a deep breath. That simple thing felt like the greatest thing he’d ever done. Sitting up, Manny could see the ladder and vent were damaged. Mr Spinda will be very angry, he thought, and began to laugh. Tears came to his eyes with a belly aching from hysterics.
Looking down at himself, Manny saw he was covered in pollen and small seedlings. He touched his face but couldn’t feel it at all. That was even more hilarious. Standing up he stretched his limbs, bending his knees and flexing his hands as if trying them out for the first time. He really hadn’t felt this good since he was a kid, maybe not ever. He wanted to run or jump or both. He felt like he could do anything. And the world, God, it was beautiful. Never had the sky been so blue, or the grass so green. Whilst before he had thought the weeds and brambles that were overwhelming the fence were ugly and scrawny, now he could really see them, see them for what they truly were. They were as beautiful as the blue sky above, because they were all one, connected. He was connected to those weeds, to that tree, to those clouds, the sky and heavens above. He was connected to God. He could feel it.
Kneeling on the grass, Manny became interested in individual blades, the beauty of buttercups and a daisy, thinking how each was equal to a rose. No, they were more beautiful than a rose. Roses had to be cultivated. These just sprang up everywhere. Manny didn’t know why that made it the more beautiful, but it did. He felt it, as if it was a part of his cells, the fabric of his DNA. A harmonic vibration of the universe, that had always been there before, but he couldn’t hear it, and now he resonated with the truth of it.
The weeds and brambles entangled in the fence became the object of Manny’s adoration. The wire fence’s entanglement with nature became a metaphor for man’s need to find harmony with nature; the ugly becoming beautiful. And in that moment Manny felt another truth. Beauty and ugliness weren’t opposites. Beauty was everything. Ugliness didn’t cancel beauty. Beauty consumed ugliness. Beauty transformed everything that it touched. He smiled at this revelation, stepping through the fence, picking his way through the undergrowth.
Manny could feel the connection with the plants around him. The long grass and weeds caressed the nylon of his work trousers. Spiked brambles snagged on the fabric and cut his hands, as he traced them along their thorned branches. They drew blood, causing deep scratches on his palms. It was exquisite. Pain wasn’t pain. It… it was a glorious sensation. The universe talking to his soul. It was communion with plants. How else would a thorn speak if not through a cut? Its cutting was its question, and Manny’s blood was the answer. A request, and then a gift.
It became dark now, because the sun could not penetrate the briar. Manny had found an opening, a chamber within the undergrowth. No, not a chamber, a chapel, a temple, a holy place, not of stone, wood and glass, but a space within nature, with walls and ceilings of organic matter, the intertwining of trees and bushes and something new, something he had never seen before. And when he gazed upon it, Manny felt as if he was the first man to see such a thing, filling him with a sense of awe, a wonderment so profound he wanted to weep with tears of joy.
At the back of the clearing, in the shade, was where it stood. Majestic and thriving in the dark. It had reached maturity, standing at least eight-feet tall. It had changed, becoming something new, something it was always meant to become. Manny dropped to his knees before it: Mana. He held his face, still unable to feel it, and gazed upon its beauty. The roots undulated in the loose soil, as a giant might play with the sand between its toes on a beach, before it would get up and stroll away to where there be monsters. Its trunk had grown thick, turning a dark earthen-green, covered with a coat of thick bristles. It rose from its restless roots, to a leathery bell-shaped flower the size of a man, mottled with brown and red. Its branches spread out from the trunk, tendrils weaving slowly, thorns punctuating the lengths, like sacrificial blades, dulled with blood of pious offerings. Manny lolled at the movement, the snake before the charmer. He breathed a deep sigh, inhaling the incense of Mana, which pervaded the air. Spice of the Earth.
Manny’s tears of joy turned the pollen on his cheeks almost black. In his wonderment, he saw them begin to move, the tendrils snaking towards him across the floor, around the sides of this holy place. The first tendril coiled around his calf muscle, entwining itself there, binding, tightening. Its thorns punctured the handyman’s flesh. He bled his offering. It hurt exquisitely, and he felt himself become hard, throbbing like a teenage boy. A second branch found him, coiling around his thigh, puncturing. He let out a small scream of ecstasy, and his balls tightened. Another and another branch came, one for each arm, enveloping his limbs. He was lifted from the floor, weightless and splayed before his wonderment. Drawn forward towards its flower, Mana began to bloom, its leathery petals opening to the neophyte handyman. He grew more excited, harder still, blood dripping from his limbs, salting the earth beneath him.
The smell was even stronger now, as if exhaled from the flower itself. The breath of Mana. The interior of its petals, pink and virginal, shone with moisture. Manny gasped as the tendrils drew him to the opening of the flower. It seemed to shudder before him, and then sprayed him with a thick clear liquid. Manny could hear his flesh sizzle. The smell of his burning skin mixed with the heady musk. The tendrils completed their offering, depositing Manny inside the bud. He smiled, digestive enzymes already beginning to break down the collagen in his cells. As the tendrils withdrew, Manny was at one with Mana. The true miracle.
The petals slowly closed around the handyman, coming together from bottom to top, until the final thing to disappear was Manny’s contented face.
Aeroplanes flew overhead.
A breeze blew and grass waved as pollen and seeds floated on the air.
All was quiet and still, but for the muffled sound of a CB radio, as if someone shouted far off.
“Goddammit, Manny. Where are you?”
A collection of Dan’s shorts stories, many of which have been previously published in horror magazines, brought together for the first time, including stories such as ‘Hope is a Rusty Knife’, ‘Agora’, ‘Inheritance’ and ‘Good Weed.’
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