The house floated between the
redwoods like it was being offered upon the palm of the forest. The flowers had
taken most of it. Even from the road, its ruin was apparent.
Coals burned in his chest to see
They both stood quietly for a
moment, his sister contemplating the rusted gate at the head of the short
gravel drive. His fingers instinctively squeezed the handle of the fixed-blade
knife at his belt, then rose to touch the withering iron of the gate. He
“Ready?” his sister said.
He nodded. “Let's get it done.”
She placed the key in the lock
and forced it to turn. The gate exhaled and fell open.
They approached the house.
The bushes had grown over the
porch. The Nordic-style A-frame eaves, still garishly bright with the colors
his grandmother had painted them in his mind's eye, in this reality now drooped
like tired shadows from the mist.
All around them, that small
white flower bloomed where its vines climbed through the long-shattered windows
and up the familiar walls.
“Jesus,” his sister muttered.
“Did it look this bad last time, or is it just me?”
“Not just you. It’s growing
faster,” he said.
She paused as she reached for
the front doorknob.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes,” he said.
With the same set of keys, she
unlocked the front door. “I want to come with you.”
“You know that's not how it
works,” he said.
She breathed in her nose and out
her mouth, slowly, and nodded.
He gave the door a push. It
didn't budge. “Damn.”
“You need the machete?” she
He kicked the door once: WHAM.
It budged a little. “Not if I can help it.”
He kicked it again. The fibers
sealing the other side shut tore free, and it swung open.
The interior of the house was
dark, filled with shapes that seemed to recoil as the dim evening light
penetrated its depths. He turned on his flashlight and gave the foyer a cursory
There it all was. His
grandmother's furniture was as they'd left it; all ornate antique wood, lost
paintings and decorative China preserved by the flowers, shadows, and dust like
a wreck frozen at the bottom of the ocean. He knew no one had been here since
the last time they'd come.
Trembling, he stepped over the
threshold. His sister's hand on his shoulder stopped him. "Wait. I want to
say this before you go in there.”
“Say what?” he said.
“That it's going to be alright.
No matter what they show you. It will be okay. And if you feel like you want to
turn around, listen to that feeling. I'll be right here if you need me.”
“I know you will,” he said, and
leaving her, entered.
The house was exactly as he
remembered it: lying corridors and sharply sloping ceilings, a nostalgically
sweet scent. His grandmother's easel still stood in the middle of the first
room, bearing a painting of he and his sister as children, only half-finished.
The coals in his chest flared as
he approached the easel and ran his fingers along its edges, careful not to
touch the painting itself. His grandmother had started working on it that
day… the day he'd eaten the berries. The day when the doctors forced him to
drink a mixture of charcoal and water until he’d puked his guts out to prevent
his stomach from absorbing the poison. The day he almost died.
He could hardly remember those
events outside of this half-finished image. He had only been a child. His
sister, three years older, had either dared him to eat the berries or perhaps
only pointed them out to him. Either way, as soon as he'd shoved a handful of
the tiny midnight-colored fruits in his mouth, she'd ran inside to tattle on
But dad knew every shrub. His
father had seen the black stains of the juice on his lips, and immediately
identified the berries were fatal. He had ran outside to double check and saw
the white flowers and that was all it took.
His grandparents had helped dad
load him into the car, and they'd raced back up the dusky, one-lane highway to
civilization. The nearest hospital was in Santa Rosa - forty minutes away. The
taste of the charcoal was the one thing he could remember. They'd had to bribe
him to drink it. It tasted like death.
The rest of the living room
beyond the easel had all been forever sealed by the white flowers and their
infinite coils of vine.
He moved onto the kitchen. Out
beyond the double glass sliding doors, the creek flowed swiftly through its
canyon of redwoods and mist. The back deck where his grandfather used to sit
and smoke before the machines breathed for him was all but invisible. There
were only the flowers and their vines coiling up the suspension wires as if
through empty air.
He didn't bother going outside.
Instead, he went upstairs to the heart of it.
His chest tightened as he saw
the runners all growing from that single source: the second-floor guest
bedroom, where the flowers and vines had originated.
Just a little farther, he told
himself. Keep going. One foot in front of the other. It’s almost done.
The guestroom was a triangular,
corner bedroom tucked under the eaves of the house. But where once there had
been twin beds, portraits of Jesus, the black lacquered nightstand with its
porcelain figurine of the Japanese fisherman, now there were only vines.
The vines had totally entombed
the guestroom. They climbed up every ceiling plank, over every vague shape that
had once been the furniture he'd slept on as a child.
In their center, a single stem
sprouted up through the floorboards. Its thorns were as large as kitchen
And from that stem grew the
bulbs. Not the little flowers that grew downstairs and outside the house. These
bulbs were closed, colossal; as white as funerary stoles, folded neatly as if
In thirty years of searching,
they had never discovered why the flowers grew here, or if they grew anywhere
else in the world. He and his sister had spent countless hours scouring every
possible source of information, barking up every tree, asking every question
they knew in their hearts would likely never be answered. She was of the
opinion it was impossible for this apparent subspecies of the Solanaceae plant
to only grow here, at the place that had once been their grandparents’
house. There was nothing special about this house, this creek, this forest.
What happened to them could've happened to any other family.
But he didn't know. She wasn't
the one who came inside to feed them. She hadn't seen what he had seen.
It wasn't her life that had been
The humongous bulbs stirred as
he walked slowly toward them, like paintings coming alive before the eye as the
viewer realizes their meaning.
He unbuttoned the knife from its
sheath and drew it. He used it to hack a thorn off the nearest vine. The thorn
was razor-sharp, but he had to use it, and not the knife. Lifting his shirt, he
hesitated before dragging its tip over his left pectoral muscle and making a
The thorn bit cold into his
chest. He gasped. The myriad other scars there made him remember that this too
would pass; that it needed to hurt for the process to work, for the bulbs to
He cupped his hand to soak up as
much of the blood as he could, held it out over the nearest bulb, and squeezed.
Crimson pattered the silk-white
outer petals. The bulb yawned and opened.
A flower as tall as he was
bloomed before him. He took a few steps, made another quick cut, and opened a
second bulb; then a third, a fourth, a fifth, until he stood in a world of
white petals that filled the room from floor to ceiling.
Take a deep breath, he told
himself. He opened his eyes, and there they were.
The faces of his loved ones were
there, suspended like eidolons inside the flowers.
Grandma and grandpa.
All the aunts, uncles, and
others he'd lost.
But they weren't lost. He knew
where they were. They were right here, exactly as they had appeared when they
were alive, every detail of them perfectly preserved - or perhaps, remembered -
within these moribund petals.
And not only their faces, but
his memories of them.
Their family picnic in the fairy
The hike at Shell Beach.
Fishing and camping in the
The time the creek had flooded,
and the house and surrounding forest had drowned in raging, knee-deep mud all
the way up to the road.
His grandmother painting by the
A young boy wandering through a
redwood grove, curiously stuffing his face with berries.
It was all here. All they had
traded so he could live.
The coals in his chest burned
into an inferno, rising to constrict his throat, his mouth, his eyes. Tears
came and he let them fall.
“Why? Why me?” he wondered
aloud. “Why am I here, instead of them?”
The vines snaked out as they
always did, gently wrapping around his body. They were careful not to cut him
anymore. His feet lifted off the floor and they raised him up, embracing him in
the glow of their smiles, and he knew the answer.
It was love.
Vine was born in Northern California. By day, he is a senior writer at a game
company. He has lived in five countries and visited forty. When he is not
writing, he is reading something icky, training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or playing
the guitar. He lives in the California Wine Country with his wife, Hilary and
their highly energetic goldendoodle, Frodo.