A Journey Starts
with a Flower
By Roy Dorman
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.
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
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?
Roy Dorman, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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