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By Patrick W. Marsh
It had been two months since Florence last saw her grandson. Edgar or Ed, as she liked to call him, had been the product of her daughter’s misguided attempts at nightlife. Now, the father was absent and her daughter was alone, stressed, and financially strapped. Ed wasn’t a mistake by any means. Florence adored him. She’d whisper in her daughter’s meek ear as they’d watch him run the sandbox ragged. Florence would tell her daughter in hushed tones that Ed was a blessing and a miracle. Her daughter wouldn’t say anything, she was a pale, short, and porcelain skinned woman, who looked ready to shatter at the slightest sign of force.
Her daughter had Ed early on in life, and secretly, Florence was jealous of her early start.
It was a sweltering afternoon in the middle of July. The sun was thick, weighty, and coalescing in an armored haze. Bugs of all shapes and sizes scoured the layered green lawns, filling the air with their incessant grumbles. Their tiny drums made the summer natural, pure, and lucid. Florence sighed and looked at her gold watch wrapped around her soft wrist. She didn’t notice the time at first, just the way her skin was bulging out around the neat sterile band. She was going to get her blood pressure tested on Tuesday. This was the age her mother’s blood pressure elevated. With the possible medication she’d have prescribed, she’d bruise easily, like a withering bowl of old plums.
Florence was approaching the age were every doctors appointment was negative and every test positive.
It was twenty past one. Her daughter was over an hour late. Florence hated being on call for someone who didn’t even want to spend time with her. Florence sighed and walked to the end of the grey speckled driveway. The lifeless stone spread out under the hot sky. She lived in the suburbs. Her husband, Walter, owned a blue house with uneven black shingles. There were three bedrooms. Two were empty, sterilized, and smelling of dusty linen. They’d never been full of anything, not even people.
A rust-ridden, black Volvo puttered up to the driveway, followed by a puff of oil soaked smoke. Her daughter had arrived. Florence tried to think of something to bribe her daughter with, to at least make her stick around awhile longer. She was out of cash. She didn’t even know what her daughter liked to eat anymore.
The door wailed open. Her daughter scurried out quickly tugging the little eight year old boy. Ed immediately broke free and dashed to Florence’s outstretched arms. Ed was tiny, with brown eyes and smeared black hair. Her daughter dropped a miscellaneous purple bag on the scorching concrete and methodically walked back towards the car.
“I’m in a hurry as you might’ve noticed,” Her daughter said, while pulling some tangled hair away from her dilated eye.
“Yeah, yeah, I noticed. When’ll you be back?” She asked wiping Ed’s face. He had some uneven, dried, chocolate rings beneath his lip. The stain was dry and stubborn; meaning, it must’ve been there for quite a while.
“Later, don’t know, could be whenever,” her daughter said.
“Okay, that’s fine. Oh, I won’t be able to watch Ed on Tuesday. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment,” she said bending down slowly. She pushed up her silver glasses, which had drifted down to end of her round nose.
“You can always stick around a while,” she said watching her daughter’s eyes.
Her daughter stopped walking, and turned towards her squinting slightly.
“Not this time mom, but maybe another day.” She said.
“I won’t be here forever—just to let you know,” Florence said. Guilt typically worked on her daughter, even if this comment was slightly out of nowhere.
Her daughter laughed and slightly drifted towards her car.
“You’re fine mom. You’re not even that old.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see,” Florence said disappointed. Her daughter hadn’t taken the bait.
Florence quickly gathered Ed and hid her discontent. The Volvo rumbled and staggered away on bouncing bearings.
“Let’s go grandma,” Ed said in a clear crisp voice. He ran to the house eagerly.
Behind Florence’s plain house was a small community pool that the neighborhood would use. The pool was slightly hidden in the forest behind her house. If you followed a small, uneven, brown path--you’d fine the pool glittering like a turquoise square.
It was almost two o’clock when they started to meander to the pool. Florence didn’t want a single shard of heavy sun to hit her skin. She wore white slacks, a blank shirt with some golden drips of thread, and enormous black sunglasses. This was all topped off with a colossal straw hat, which doubled her shadow beneath the sun. Ed clung fiercely to her wrinkled hand as they walked to the gate at the end of her flat lawn. Ed was wearing a pair of orange swimming trunks, which matched the little pads strapped around his pale arms. His small chest was a searing bright white, which Florence had smothered it with the strongest suntan lotion available.
The forest boiled against the humid breeze. The cluttering trees quaked wildly, trying to out sing the Cicadas grating incessantly in the roar. They walked about halfway to the pool when they came to a leafy fork in the road. She stopped momentarily and counted the broken trail. She’d never noticed the path before. This wasn’t too surprising--she’d barely been to the pool until Ed had arrived.
There was a man sitting on a mossy trunk at the mouth of the path.
He was thin, with a wild and tangled beard that curled down to his chest like a stretched cloud. He wore a gray three-piece suit that was covered in small lesions. Behind each ragged slit were strips of white silk. Not a bead of sweat dripped down his withered face in the thick oven air. His wrinkled eyes were closed tightly in a reflective-like trance.
“Hi!” Ed beeped out, breaking the droll of the trees.
The man’s eyes snapped open, staring down at Ed. They were a bright green, like every leaf above them had been forged into two perfect jewels. Green eyes were rare enough, but this color was miraculously unique. They made Florence blush maddeningly.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. We’re just on our way to the pool over there,” Florence stuttered while nodding her head.
The man looked up at her mystified.
“Pool?” he mumbled dryly.
“Yeah, over there, can’t you see it?” Ed said pointing through the woods. His bleached hand illuminated the tangled green like a living searchlight.
The man’s green eyes follow him to the splashing pool just beyond a quilt of trees, adjacent to their conversation.
“Oh, ha, I see now,” the man said. He smiled suddenly and blinked his eyes forcefully. His teeth were flawless, like square cut pearls.
“Where does this path go?” Ed said pulling his finger around to the pathway behind the man.
“Oh, just to a clearing I look after. That’s one of my jobs you see,” he said. His voice was became lower as he turned to it.
“You’re job? I didn’t think they hired someone to do that back here?” Florence said, keeping a firm grip on Ed’s hand.
“No one hired me, but it’s my job.”
“That doesn’t work?” Ed said confidently.
“Yes, well, nevertheless—I look after it. And seldom can you actually get to it,” the man said while standing up. He was bent, and unnaturally wide. Even though he was short, his shoulders spawned a shadow that surrounded them both.
“Can we see it? That clearing, or whatever it is?” Ed asked.
“Now, now Ed, I’m sure this nice has man has work to do, and I’m too old to be rummaging around a forest and such,” Florence said emphatically.
“No, you not too old for it, I guarantee you,” the man said.
“What?” Why is that?” She replied.
“You’re not too old. Just go a little ways in. Unless you feel too old, then you are,” he said solemnly.
Florence laughed nervously at this response.
“Well, I’m not too old or too young, but if you’re telling me it’s fine for someone like me, then maybe we can check it out,” she said looking down at Ed.
“No, no, I’m telling you, I know.” He said.
He pulled a baby blue handkerchief out from his pocket. There were small gold stars on it, which shimmered and twitched as he folded it. Ed was sure a few sparkled stars drifted out onto the broiling air.
“So, what’s in the clearing though?” she said changing the subject to something other than her age.
“Oh, a bunch of weeds and things. You’re welcome to see, like I said.”
“Common grandma, it’s not even that far.”
“It’s just down the path a little ways?”
“Yeah, not far, you’ll get to the clearing before you know it,” he said sitting back down.
“I’d give you a tour, but I’m a little worn out, go right ahead.”
Before Florence could even respond, Ed was pulling her deeper into the forest.
The path was snug with leathery ferns and stalks of bushes. Puddles interrupted the path often, forcing them to drift sideways into the quaking forest. The silver water in the puddles was devoid any dirt or cloudy dust. Florence found the calmness of each little reflection charming and stopped to stare into one. Her face was flushed and stretched by the thick heat. Her eyes looked vacant. Something was around her in the pool, something surrounded her. Around her shoulders were four towering dark forms, with more arriving by the second in little violent flashes. They were jagged, lurched, and completely black. Her back tingled and her wrists began to ache violently. She had a hard time moving her tongue around.
“Ed, Ed, you see them?” she said pulling him close.
They were gone in one quick shadowy flourish.
“Common Grandma, I can see the gate ahead,” Ed said pulling her away.
At the end of the path was a small wire gate, which was covered with a puzzle of blue and purple flowers. Edgar darted up to plant-weaved door unafraid, and pulled on curled wire between the flowers, pulling the gate open. A hot wind erupted the moment the wire came free. Something about the breeze made them walking in quickly and hypnotically. It immediately died the moment they walked inside.
“Grandma, the flowers followed us,” Ed said pointing back. The flowers stared at him longingly. They began to wheeze and shake on the fence.
Florence couldn’t look back. The clearing made sure of it. The space was about thirty yards round, though it seemed to expand and diminish with every arid breeze. The grass was mowed down to a perfect flat surface. A tattered wooden fence surrounded the glade, which was draped with velvety spider webs. Random streaks of black, sinewy vines shredded the ground in random slashes. Enormous slabs of flat rock peeked out from below the tangled mess. Each rectangle had glowing silvers letters, which rose up from the gray rock. The language was beyond foreign to her. After a few minutes of staring she gave up and walked to the center of the clearing. There was a white marble fountain with a broken angel in its center. Clear water trickled off its outstretched wings. The angel was bowing low, so only it’s back and wings were visible at first glance.
Florence had never witnessed a statue quite like that before.
“Grandma, grandma, something bit me,” Ed wailed running over to her. A long strip of skin had been vertically stripped off his leg. Blood was drizzling out furiously staining his sandaled feet. She quickly reached into her pocket for a tissue when there was a crunchy sound on her left. A pair of the fleshy vines tore into her like a wet piece of clay. She grabbed Ed’s shoulder wildly and turned to run away, but promptly fell to the ground in a white heap. Vines covered her quickly in wild thrashes and swipes. Ed had fallen down and was being cocooned slowly in spinning black vines.
His scream became gurgled and inhuman as the vines blocked out his breath.
The vines started to remove their skin in larger portions, ripping and stretching in every way possible. When Florence would wrench the vines they’d give slightly, but still wouldn’t release their frantic grip. A sweet smell of thick, sultry pollen came over the two thrashing bodies. A figure was approaching them through the verdant chaos. Florence could feel the shadow near them and the ground tremble under its approach. She couldn’t do anything else, she’d go into shock soon and that would be it.
They’d be pulled apart and stretched, without even being alive for it.
She quickly took the vines and began biting them apart with her teeth. They were taunt and tough. They tore holes in her gums, and pulled out some of her teeth. Her tongue split, she lost vision in her left eye, and she coughed blood. The vines around her arms eventually went limp. In a few seconds she was kneeling and pulling Ed free from the jagged tomb they’d wrapped him in. The skin was nearly all gone around his shoulders, like someone had just painted them red in uneven patterns.
In a second, she was running to the gate with Ed crying in her arms. A frothing wave of vines trailed her every step. Right before Florence burst out of the gate, a single vine sprang up hammering her in the back. A sizable square of her skin plopped free. The lucid, air-whistled pain burnt like a patch of fire. It made her vomit, but she still staggered forward.
The leaves howled longingly around the clearing. No meal for them today.
It felt like hours before she made her way back up to the path. She eyed every vine, every tree, and every bristling shadow as she staggered. Her bleached clothes were soaked in thick bloody grime. Ed was still covered in fragments of the vines and emerald flowers from the living melee. There was too much blood to till who pouring more as they staggered. Florence was about to breakdown when she finally reached the man. He leisurely took Ed from her outstretched arms.
She immediately collapsed onto her knees panting and crying in erratic throbs.
“Call someone…call an ambulance!” she gasped through a mouthful of blood.
“Call someone? How, with what?” the stranger said confused.
“A cell phone, a cellular phone, you know it?” she gasped.
Florence wiped tears away from her split cheeks. She couldn’t talk to this man any longer, she needed to get non-riddling help.
“What, what was that, why?” Florence said standing up again and reaching towards Ed.
“It’s a cemetery, for the giants. They’re souls have grown more violent as time goes on; therefore, warping the plants with their loneliness. No one really visits them,” he said solemnly.
“A cemetery…giants?” she coughed out.
“Yes, well, anywhere things are buried, yes,” he said handing Ed back to her.
“Magic or something?” she said staggering past him towards the pool.
The stranger smiled, and then bowed slightly as he strolled away down the path to the clearing.
“I’m not sure how that even works!” Florence sobbed as he strolled along.
“It’s okay, you’ve survived. I knew you would,” he said.
Florence looked back at him through an uneven, blood-tunneled haze.
“I’ll contain them, I will. Don’t worry about them following you,” he said.
The plants prickled outwards as he strolled back.
“You weren’t too old for it,” He yelled through the forest as Florence staggered away. She could smell the sour chlorine and hear the bouncing splashes.
The giddy voices of children abruptly turned to screams as Florence and Ed crumbled in a crimson heap just outside the pool’s sparkling waves. Florence laughed into the hot concrete with a bit of giddy pride before passing out into a scratchy darkness.
Patrick W. Marsh is a writer currently pursuing a BA in English and creative writing. He currently lives in Robbinsdale, Minnesota – which is also home to the band that wrote “The Bird” recited numerous times by Peter in "Family Guy." His poems and stories have been published in Parachutes, Under Construction, Dagda Publishing, Calliope, and others. He currently spends his time writing, studying, trying to beat Street Fighter II Turbo on the highest difficulty setting available, and musing over an apocalyptic blog.