Black Petals Issue #73 Fall, 2015

A Journey Starts with a Flower

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Mars-News, Views and Commentary
A Journey Starts with a Flower-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Cold Surprise-Fiction by Paul Strickland
Final Run_Fiction by A. M. Stickel, Editor
Gift of the Anasazi-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Killer Deal-Fiction by Denny Marshall
Please Remember Me-Fiction by Charles C. Cole
Safe Haven, Part I-Fiction by Denis Bushlatov
Safe Haven, Part II-Fiction by Denis Bushtalov
The City-Fiction by Wayne Haroutunian
The Witch and the Rock-Fiction by Janet C. Ro
Roadside Accident-2 poems by Denny Marshall
Journey to the Devil's Shore-Poem by Grant Tarbard

Fiction by Roy Dorman

floorplant.jpg

A Journey Starts with a Flower

 

By Roy Dorman

Continuum adventuring

 

 

Time, distance, and dimension manipulator Stan Albright is thinking he may finally allow himself to be taken by those relentless Others who have been trying for the last three months or so to capture him. He wants to confront and possibly best them at whatever game they’re playing.

He’s also thinking he may not allow himself to be taken. He may just hang out at the quiet rooming house he’s found himself in until he’s fully recovered from his latest escape from them. Who knows? he muses. 

This only makes sense in that Stan knows he’s probably lost the capability of decision making; his life is no longer his own. For the most part, he doesn’t make things happen; they happen to him. He figures by not being overly cautious and running when minions of the Others come for him, he’ll be captured—a showdown by default.

But right now Stan’s desperately trying to get his eyes to open. He’s in the closing seconds of a horrible nightmare and tangled up in sheets and blankets. Flailing and gasping, he’s finally able to roll himself to one side of the bed and fall to the floor. That wakes him up. This start of a new day has become par for the course lately.

In falling out of bed, Stan bumped the nightstand beside the bed and spilled some water onto the floor. “No big deal,” he muttered, “just an old plastic cup and a little water.”

Standing in the middle of the room, still breathing a little heavily, he tried to remember the dream. As nightmares usually do, it was already getting hazy and he could only grab onto the little piece of it that told him it had to do with being buried alive. At the end of the dream, he had been struggling to get to the surface.

Shrugging, Stan schlepped into the bathroom and started to get ready for the day. As with most of the dream, he forgot about the spilled water. He got dressed and went off to find some morning coffee.

When he came home that afternoon, the sun was shining in through his bedroom window. He then noticed the red plastic cup on the floor by the nightstand. The water had dried while he was at coffee and then lunch. This at least was something from the morning that he vaguely remembered. Bending over to pick up the cup he noticed a small green plant that seemed to be growing from between two of the oak boards of the floor. What the hell?

He crouched down to touch it, to make sure that it was real. About three inches tall, it had a sturdy stem, four velvety green leaves with serrated edges, and a tiny bud of some kind toward the top. The bud was still mostly closed, but what peeked out the end was brilliant crimson with tiny purple hairs on it. He gently touched it as someone would touch something that they weren’t quite sure of. He had just absently positioned his thumb and forefinger around the stem in order to pull it out when a painful back spasm caused him to freeze in that position.

“Arggh!” he screamed. “Oh damn, oh damn, oh damn, that hurts!” Stan crab-walked over to the bed and sat down. Massaging his lower back with both hands, he stared at the tiny plant.  

Coincidence? I don’t think so. He had bent over for a bit and that might have caused a muscle cramp, but Stan was no longer a believer in coincidences. The plant had attacked him in self-defense.

Limping into the kitchen, he peered into the refrigerator for something to put in the microwave. It was Friday night and he thought he would go down to the neighborhood bar and have a couple of beers with the regulars after he had some dinner.

Later that night, as he was getting into bed, he remembered the plant. He once again considered pulling it up, but as he formed the thought, a sharp pain pierced his right temple. Groaning, he lay down on the pillow and the plant completely disappeared from his mind.

Saturday morning, Stan found himself on his knees leaning over the plant with the red plastic cup in his hand. The cup was empty, but he could see where he had poured water into the crack of the floor at the base of the plant. The plant had been only a couple of inches tall when he had first noticed it yesterday afternoon, but now it was easily a foot tall. The flower bud had gotten larger and looked like it could open at any time. 

He couldn’t remember getting out of bed. He wasn’t dressed yet, and the alarm clock showed it was already ten o’clock. He remembered coming home late last night and remembered thinking about the plant before falling asleep, something about pulling it out by its—

“Ow!” A sharp pain, not as intense as the one last night, once again hit him in the temple. Just thinking about thinking about it had again triggered the response. “I’d better ask Mrs. Wilkins if she knows anything about this.”

Stan now remembered that the last dream he’d been having before he woke up that morning had to do with being very thirsty. He figured it was probably due to being a little hung over from drinking the night before. He was trying to avoid making any additional connections to the plant, but knew the connections were there. In a way, those connections would mean he was closer to his goal, which should be a good thing. The scary part was that’s exactly what the connections might mean: he was closer to his goal.

 

Mrs. Wilkins, Stan’s landlady, lived in the apartment below his. The building was an old three-story, five-bedroom house she’d had converted to two apartments and two single rooms after her husband died two years ago.

Stan went downstairs and knocked on her door. “Hi, Mrs. Wilkins,” he said. “I was wondering…” Stan stopped talking and a puzzled look appeared on his face. He and Mrs. Wilkins just stood there and stared at each other for a few seconds.

“Yes, Stan,” prompted Mrs. Wilkins. “Is there something you were going to ask me?

“I think so,” said Stan. “But now I can’t remember what it was.” Since moving into Mrs. Wilkins’ rooming house, remembering even the most recent things was getting to be hit and miss for Stan. 

Mrs. Wilkins frowned, recalling similar conversations with other tenants over the last two years. “Is it about a plant, Stan? Is there a plant in your room? Because if you ever do see a plant growing in your room, through a crack in the floorboards, don’t water it. If you don’t water it, it will wither and die. That’s important, Stan; don’t water it.”

Even as she said it, she knew there was probably nothing Stan would be able to do or not do when it came to the plant. 

Stan mumbled his thanks and started back upstairs. He now remembered that the plant had been the reason he’d come down to see Mrs. Wilkins, but something had stopped him from saying so. When he realized this, he almost went back to tell Mrs. Wilkins, but didn’t. Now that he acknowledged the connections to the current goings-on, he thought everything was going nicely according to the plan he had recently hatched.

 

Mrs. Wilkins closed her door and stood staring at nothing in particular in her living room. “Goddamn you, Harold,” she sighed. “Your pigheadedness cost you your life and it’s probably going to cost me my sanity.”

Her husband, Harold, who’d fancied himself a self-taught warlock, had gotten in way over his head, as is often the case with amateurs dealing in the black arts. He had used the room that was now Stan’s bedroom as his “laboratory” and in that room he had met his death. The police had been skeptical at first, but Mrs. Wilkins had left Harold where he’d fallen, left all of his books and pentagrams were they were, and dared the police to accuse her of any wrongdoing. In the end, the coroner ruled that he had died of a massive stroke, and Mrs. Wilkins had moved on.

If there was another plant in that room, it would be important to act quickly before it grew in size and power. There had been two other instances of plant growth and she had handled them as soon as the tenants had notified her. Actually, the notification in both cases had been with the tenants telling her that they were leaving; they thought that the upstairs apartment was a “health hazard.” Neither of them mentioned anything about a plant; they seemed to be unable to talk about it with Mrs. Wilkins. Mrs. Wilkins’ approach to the plants had been to lock the room after the tenants left and not go in for a couple of weeks. When she did look in again, she found that the plants had withered and dried up from lack of water. That one of the plants had grown tendrils that reached almost to the bathroom before it had died had frightened her.

She decided she had better go upstairs and talk to Stan. He was a good tenant and good tenants were hard to come by. She didn’t think Stan should have to be inconvenienced by her dead husband’s follies. The idea of visiting Stan left her head without her realizing it. Instead, she found herself reminiscing about the past; it seemed more comfortable. 

 

Harold Wilkins had unwittingly helped the Others open a way station in his laboratory. The Others travelled between Earth’s dimension and their own, with the intention of eventually leaving their dying world and inhabiting Earth. They were an aggressive, ruthless species, which didn’t bode well for Earthlings. Stan Albright had had dealings with henchmen sent by the Others to capture him and bring him under their control. That something had brought him to their portal should have frightened him, but he had already been through a lot before this. 

Two weeks ago, Stan had been the roommate of another of these henchmen when he wound up at a hospital in Chicago. The second night there, he awoke to see Alicia Goodman, dressed in a nurse’s uniform, holding a pillow down on his fellow patient’s face. There was a quiet struggle for a couple of minutes and then Alicia neatened things up. After taking a peek at Stan, she left the room. Stan had pretended to be sleeping, and wasn’t sure Alicia had been fooled. Alicia had been on his side in a previous encounter with the Others—on the island of St. Martin in the Caribbean. That she could now be in Chicago was not a surprise to Stan; he’d done some instantaneous travel himself recently—one of the reasons they were trying to capture him. Could he completely trust Alicia?

Another person supposedly on “his side” in this whole mystery was a shady character who called himself John Doe. Both John and Alicia had helped Stan in the past, but he has been trying to err on the side of caution. Coincidences had been piling up in his life recently and he carefully sifted through them before committing himself to a plan of action.

In the hospital, Stan had been an older man, with all of the aches and pains that come with age. Leaving the hospital on what started out as a “geezer jog,” he had soon found himself closer to mid-thirty in age and running at a good clip. He had arrived at Mrs. Wilkins’ (probably not by coincidence) without luggage and looking for a room.

Now back in his room, Stan took a paring knife from a kitchen drawer and went over and knelt by the plant. The plant’s ability to read his intentions was obvious in that there was no pain shooting through Stan’s head. Stan made a small cut in his left index finger and let the blood drip along the plant’s stem, down to the roots concealed in the crack in the floor. The plant shuddered and grew a foot right before his eyes. The flower bud burst open with a loud pop and rainbow-colored pollen whooshed into Stan’s face. He was conscious only long enough to hear the skittering of crab-like feet coming across the hardwood floor. His plan was to confront the Others this time; he hoped he was up to it.

 

Shackled to some sort of wooden rack, gagged but not blindfolded, Stan was now second-guessing himself. Maybe I should have had some sort of game plan, rather than just letting myself be taken.

“And here I thought you’d come to rescue me,” came a call from across the room that Stan immediately recognized. It was “Voice,” one of the enemies of the Others who had helped Stan outwit them in the past. Voice was secured to a rack similar to the Stan’s. Though both were gagged, they could communicate telepathically.

“Hey, Voice, I should have known something wasn’t quite right when I didn’t hear your usual ‘Run!’ before I got captured.”

Before Voice could respond, a huge, tentacled, slug-like beast entered the room. Without a sound, other than slippery whooshing as it crawled across the floor, it enveloped Voice, rack and all, in its maw. It then turned to Stan with a look of infinite patience (if this faceless being was capable of showing a human emotion) waiting for him to respond.

 As the Other stared, a bright orange light appeared between its eyes and then slowly continued in a straight line down its front. When the slit in the beast reached about four feet in length, a hand opened the flap a little wider and a very messy looking Voice stepped out of what remained of the collapsing body.

 “They’re big, and they’re ugly, but they’re not the sharpest knives in the drawer,” said Voice. “Here, Stan, let me get you untied from that thing. Since you’ve got it in your head to take on the Others, we may as well take them on together. We’ll just follow the trail of slime this one left and see about shaking their organization up a bit. Here’s a laser for you; short bursts near the area of the eyes seems to work best. If the charge gets too weak to kill them we’ll have to—”

 “I know, I know” said Stan. “We’ll have to run, right? You just say the word. I do have two questions, though: Before this whole business started I must have been working someplace. I must have had a job…and a life. So where does my money come from? Shouldn’t I be working? ”

Voice was using his laser on a low setting to clean the ichor from himself. “Is your wallet ever empty? Your time has been spent in eluding those Others. Now your time will be spent in destroying them. You’ve no time for a job. What’s the second question?”

“This is the first time I’ve actually seen you. Is it a coincidence that you look more than a little like one of our horror fiction writers?”

“In most of your incarnations you’ve been a pretty smart guy; I’m sure you can figure it out.”

“I don’t much believe in coincidences anymore,” said Stan.

“See? Figured it out already,” said Stephen, formerly known as Voice.

They took off walking at a brisk pace toward what appeared to be a deserted warehouse about a half mile in the distance. It would turn out not to be deserted and Stan would have plenty of opportunities to practice with his laser before they got there. Looking up at the starry sky, unable to pick out the Big Dipper, he wondered, Are we still on Earth?

To Be Continued

 

Roy Dorman, roydorman@yahoo.com, of Madison, Wisconsin, who wrote BP #73’s “A Journey Starts with a Flower” (+BP #72’s “The Beach House,” BP #71’s “The Big Apple Bites,” BP #70’s “Borrowing Some Love,” and BP #69’s “Back in Town” and “Finding Good Help…”), is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a voracious reader for 60 years. At the prompting of an old high school friend, himself a retired English teacher, Roy is now a voracious writer. He has had poetry and flash fiction published in Apocrypha and Abstractions, Burningword Literary Journal, Cease Cows, Crack The Spine, Drunk Monkeys, Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Gap-Toothed Madness, Gravel, Lake City Lights (an online literary site at which he is now the submissions editor), Near To The Knuckle, Shotgun Honey, Theme of Absence, The Screech Owl, The Story Shack, & Yellow Mama.

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