by Suphala Nibhanupudi
Art by Allison Huang
Issue: Ataraxia (Spring 2018)
A girl rips her leg free from an gluttonous vine wrapped around her. Muttering profanities underneath her breath, she trudges through the bramble wall, slapping at bugs on her forearms.
Her hand instinctively darts to her pockets for the millionth time, but she’s greeted with a crumpled bundle of petals and thorns instead of her phone. A globule of blood pools on the top of her pale thumb, and she stares, hypnotized by the contrast of dull white and color.
Her thoughts drift to her father, probably standing in her bedroom, staring at the sudden abundance of living foliage, and the sudden lack of daughter. She’s not sure if he would cry. She suspects that he would smile.
Something slithers near her calf. She springs into a sprint, her cries slicing through the air like sharp claws on a chalkboard.
She knew nothing of a place like this. This place is the stuff of nightmarish fairy tales, legends spun by a fire to quell the minds of excitable children. Her world is pure, shining metal and glass and concrete. Here, mud squelches and bubbles under the soles of her sandals, and vines crawl from high above to snake around her person, trying to rope her into a standstill.
Nature should be weak, she knows. Her generation has stopped the evil tyranny of plants, pushing back on Mother Nature’s long reign over humankind. Mother Nature was a kind soul, sure, but unfit to lead. She was weak. And humans had taken what should be theirs. They bundled nature into museums and national monuments, showcasing them like a doctor presents certificates, spanning from wall to wall.
The unfamiliar urge to gag lodges in her throat. So she keeps moving, shoving her way through Mother Nature’s subjects, in search of sweet sidewalk.
She stumbles into a clearing. Grassy plains reflect the afternoon sun as spots of pink and yellow splatter over the landscape. A strange aroma fills the air, like a dozen perfumes mingling, but barely decipherable, the accompaniment to a melody. There were no skyscrapers, no cars, no people, just a shamrock carpet, wild daisies, and a pale sky.
The girl takes a hesitant step, and the heel of her shoe catches on a stone that juts out cruelly from the earth. She tumbles, screaming curses into the patient air as she rolls and rolls down. She catches dirt in her mouth and she spits it out, only for more to find its way in. Earth and cloud and fire and color roll around her, smothering her in a blanket of wildlife. She finally digs her barren toes into the cold ground and skids to a stop.
She looks back, and she can’t find the monstrous forest she’d trekked through. She looks forward and sees an mob of shacks, crowded together for warmth, shuddering in the breeze.
She brushes off clumps of dirt stuck on her clothes. Her face twists, the corners of her mouth curling down, as her gaze drops to her naked feet, which are littered with red scratches. She hobbles to the shack, praying there would be someone who could give her directions to the nearest city. Or town. Maybe a restroom. And while she was asking for impossibility, maybe some new shoes.
She raps expectantly on one of the doors, a piece of rotting wood with mold creeping up its spine. She doesn’t hear any shuffling, no calls of “Coming!” She pounds on the door, her breaths shallowing. She glances back to find creepers dangle from the awning, writhing erratically with the wind.
Panic flooding her veins, she bangs her fist on the door, yelling for anyone inside. She’s dirty and smells like sewage and her legs are caked with blood, dammit, she deserves a bath!
The door whines. She hears the cracking of wood, the sound of a burly tree snapping in a hurricane. Dark fissures scurry up and down the piece of wood. Then the door crumbles, collapsing into a dusty mess on the entrance of the house. Sand spins in front of her face and she splutters, jumping back to avoid the splintering mess at her feet.
Her eyes squint into a dark abyss behind the house’s door jamb. The girl places her hand on the door frame, and she tilts herself into the darkness. Wind hisses through sheer curtains, with all the amicable air of the devilish grin of a serpent. Floorboards are non-existent. The house is too dark to see the carpet. The girl strokes the cool rug underneath her bare feet, and her toes curl into the spongy surface blissfully. She steps in, hunched over like a guilty thief. She calls out “Hello?” and the response bounces back to her.
The girl whines. The tiny sound wafts through the empty house and slips into cracks that are invisible to the eye. It’s too quiet. The air here carries no tune, and only dares for her to fill the silence.
She sticks out her hands and stumbles onto a table in the middle of the room. Her hand clamps onto the back of a chair and onto something thin and wiry. Her fingers scramble around the tabletop. She brushes over the scrawny texture, over something once smooth, before her fingers land on a long waxy tube.
She lights the candle with mechanical ease, and the air warms with an orange glow. She looks down and sucks in a breath. The table is overrun with willowy stems that bear chrysanthemums at their ends. The curly petals aren’t withered; they blossom bearing the colors of a triumphant sunset. The crisscrosses of jade stems trail and wind around the legs of the table, dripping into the carpet. The carpet of moss. Moss. The girl shrieks and jumps, her toes jouncing off the floor. But the moss grasps at the entire floor, a myrtle ocean that ripples into eternity.
The girl settles, her breaths deepening, realizing there was no escape from the wildlife underneath her. Her fingers tighten on the base of the candle and she steps away from the table.
The air drips with sweetness, intoxicating smells she recalls drifting from empty rooms, devoid of its inhabitant–
She turns and brushes her hand on a thorn, occupying her mind with the pain.
The house is coated with foliage; vines swing from roof rafters, ivy is drizzled over countertops, roses with thorns on full display twist around rods and beams that support the house and claim them as their own. The girl’s fingertips brush over every fuzzy stem, every blushing flower as a sense of wonder washes over her, like mist that approaches a bay in the sleepy morning. Mother Nature cups her cheeks and brushes her hair back and presses her into her bosom.
As she traverses deeper into the house, a nest of vines slide behind her, a pack of hounds that prowl at her heels. She worries that their jaws may sink into her barren ankle. She finds a white lily in her hands. The moonlight petals curve around her thumb, and the girl feels warm again, the hole in her heart she’s ignored starting to well over, drop by drop. Her spine bends back, straightens. She reaches for a door next to her and tugs on the dull doorknob, but ropes of creepers and ivy brace against the pull, like someone’s arms had been slapped against the door, yelling “You can’t go in there!” She blinks, and continues.
She finds the kitchen, tucked in the darkest corner in the room, far away from the window. A curtain of ivy shields the girl from whatever is behind it. With childlike curiosity, she brushes aside the strands.
A human is slumped lopsidedly against an ice box, his head tilted in a near impossible angle. He would have been spilled on the floor if it weren’t for the hordes of vines that were taut around his torso, binding him to the wall. His papery skin is flicked with pinpricks of blood, The suit, something that must have looked grand and sharp and sophisticated once upon a century, is stained with tears and shock and blood. Creepers have also captured his briefcase. And his neck. It bulges wide with the skinny vines that tighten around it. Two cold marbles of hazel are shrunken with fear, the whites of the eyes large and pale. His fingers are stiff, cupped around a bundle of blackened purple flowers, with tight small buds. Hyacinths.
The girl stares with fear curdling at the base of her heart, but she can’t find the will to release the strands and run away shrieking. Her feet carry her closer to the corpse, and she leans down, taking one of the hyacinths he offers. The glow of the candle illuminates their faces. His cold hand brushes her and she snaps back, staring at the dead man clutched by frondescence, hidden away in the house of flowers. In his lap, a small cigarette lighter glints in the little light left. She could nearly taste the words that were to tumble out of his ajar mouth, the bitter regret inviting bile as the words inch out of her mouth, and sizzle into a whisper in the cold air. His stench of rot and decay attacks her senses, and she rises, wondering what the man would get if he had burned the house, scorched Mother Nature alive. She backs into the ivy curtain, its tendrils snaking up her back, tracing up her shoulders and head before falling in front of her face.
Her mind is clouded over, but ivy has clutched her feet and they drag her into another room. A bed, sheets dark with promise peek from under Mother’s daffodils that ravage the bedsheets. Their centers flush with a golden glow, pure and strong. Their stems drape over the pillows and curl around the thin bedposts. They dig their claws into the sheets, clutching at the bed in its desperate grasp.
The girl perches on the edge of the bed, her back to the insatiable vines. She palms a daffodil and places it in her lap, next to it goes the pale, dying hyacinths. The lily’s petals droop, bows her head in shame as her satin touch runs along her thumb.
She stares at the flowers in her hands as the candle’s fire smolders into wispy fumes. The smoke circles around her person, as a creeper wraps around her leg.
The flameless candle tips over.