20040516

The Second Labor


My first instinct was to keep on going and find some other way to make money. Sucking dicks in the kitchen of a country and western bar, for instance. Looking at the lawn as I rode up on my bicycle, my stomach body-slammed itself as I realized I was going to have to do actual work, something to which I am normally allergic. But then I remembered that I was getting paid in cash by the hour, and that if I just relaxed and found a comfortable pace, I could maybe string this job along for weeks. I could easily get what I needed, and the wretched condition of the lawn could be an incidental blessing.

I parked my bike on the curb and made my way to the back where I was supposed to find gardening tools. The lawn was a knee-high nightmare, probably the sole subject of many a furious neighborhood association meeting, and I felt like a five-year-old wading nervously through occluded and oily surf. Anything that could live in this matted thicket was surely nastier than I.

I took some time to give the place a more thorough examination before I set to work. The cottage was nice enough, and the tools were in a pile by the back door, right where the brisk old landlord said they would be. I put on some thick canvas gloves, grabbed a sharpshooter shovel, and walked back to the front to plan my attack.

Even though it had been abandoned for nearly half a year, the cottage itself looked to be in fairly decent repair. It was a two story pink and yellow townhouse with bright blue trim, a gingerbread roof, and a whitewashed picket fence that ran crooked and sharp, easily lethal enough to mangle enthusiastic, invading Huns. It was right in the middle of the city, and I would have loved to live in a place like this. Hard to imagine that anybody would pack up and leave it in the middle of the night without even a notice or a forwarding address. No, somebody had loved it once, despite the mysterious circumstances surrounding its surrender, and it was my job to make sure somebody would love it again.

I tapped the sharpshooter against my left Ked. Before I could mow, I would need to get rid of the weeds. The grass underneath the mess was a healthy Bermuda that seemed like it would thrive and enthusiastically choke away interlopers given the right starting conditions. I just needed to even up the odds a bit…let the Bermuda know someone was on its side.

I could tell there were some flowers and shrubs wildly kicking around as well. However, I snappily decided that I would only preserve the grass. Landscaping was really more of a stage two affair, and I wasn’t being paid to beautify – only to salvage and repair. I could tell where the landlord had started to do the job he was paying me for and then given up. There was a largish clean patch near the evening-sun side that I took to be an example of what he wanted me to make the rest of the yard look like. There was a child’s red wagon over the defoliated dirt, and I made a mental note: I could use it as a trolley, and not have to make a billion trips to the trash.

Heaving a deep sigh of frustration at my lot in life to be a working shithead instead of somehow independently wealthy, I grabbed the shovel with two hard fists and plunged it into the nearest bluebell.

I started digging, kicking and scooping. It was mid-morning, and I suddenly realized it was eventually going to be hot as July horse shit squeezed by a boxcar onto July railroad tracks. I wrapped a wet bandanna around my head, but not before sweat started to flow in nasty, unctuous sheets down my back like torrential rain on a semi-truck’s dirty side mirror. Nothing else to be done for it.

It was not long before I found my rhythm. I was proud of myself: with the right beat, my shovel started gouging the incontestable quick out of that stony ground. I first went for all the little bastards – the weeds in soft dirt that came up surprised and sheepish - and I started making a pile of their eerie emerald corpses on the wagon. At first I kept the gloves on, but this proved to be impractical and awkward. Soon, they too joined the graveyard. My last experience of pulling weeds must have been when I was twelve, where I did eight months in an “alternative school” for a dime sack of weed in my gym locker. Now that I was doing it for money, I found I sort of enjoyed the wholesale slaughter of the tough, innocent, and evolutionarily-superior foliage. I was an avenging, desperate monkey waging my personal war for Adam and Cain against the rampant injustice of The Garden.

The weeds were not the only casualty in my savage, peccant assault. Under the merciless blade of my thin shovel, earthworms suddenly found themselves meeting their identical twins, pillbugs were turned into shiny black balls of undulating jelly, and tiny spiders tasted their own bitter innards before curling terminally into tiny pools of tiny spider goo. As I worked, often squatting, my fists and knees turned a grainy cellulose green, and I imagined the stain was literally the blood of the land.

The lawn's heady chartreuse vodka and the sun's happy acid started to intoxicate me. By noon I had cleared out most of the little weeds, and I was surveying the larger ones to figure out how their root systems worked and how best to eliminate each. I was dizzy and kind of unsteady, and starting to get dehydrated. I picked up the garden hose and tried to take a swig from it. The water tasted like paint and hit my stomach like the warm, regurgitated bile of an alcoholic rock star. I doubled over, grabbed at my temples to keep my brain from exploding out of my head, and found myself face to face with the most curious, dangerous looking little plant I had ever seen.

Hello. How come I hadn’t noticed this monstrosity before?

As waves of heatstroke and nausea climbed back down from my face into my guts, I stared at it with a hilarious calm and let it be my entire focus. It didn’t take much work.

I was a hired destroyer of weeds (various and sundry, plain and simple) and not a horticulturist or even somebody who could tell you the names of plants beyond dandelions (they have white puff balls that you can blow) and apple trees (they have apples). But I did know this was a plant I had never seen before, and I had spent a goodly amount of time rolling around in people’s lawns as a both a tot and as a recreational abuser of hallucinogens.

First of all, it was purple. Most plants have similar sickly organic purple in them somewhere – close to their joints and where the leaves bud out, perhaps – but this plant was all purple. It was about a two feet tall and covered with small, hypodermic thorns. Its leaves were fluted, and even though there was a slight breeze, it didn’t sway. It didn’t have any flowers, but I imagined that if it ever bloomed it was bright neon pink and dripped sugary battery acid in order to attract and murder bees – sticking them and then slowly dissolving them alive as they ineffectually flapped their wiggly diaphanous membranes.

When I poked it with the edge of my shoe, it only gave a little bit in the dirt and didn’t bend at all.

When I sifted through the soil around it with two fingers, I noticed that the soil was finer and looser than the rest of the lawn. It was almost like the dirt of an ant mound.

I looked for insects, but there weren’t any. Something instinctive told me the plant was poisonous.

I picked up the shovel and gave the plant a swipe. I managed to hack off one of its limbs. It came away clean, snapping, and didn’t splinter - and the remaining tube began to ooze clear, thick fluid. I picked up the lopped stalk. It smelled like butterscotch, and between the thorns of the plant, I could feel miniscule hairs.

I took big gulps out of the water hose, now. It was finally running cold. Focusing so completely on one thing did the job of curing my nausea. But I knew that before I could get any more work done, I would have to find every instance of this plant and destroy it. Its organic menace chilled me somewhere deeply abstract. I wanted to punch it repeatedly in its chloroplast as it wept unto death.

First things first: I walked over to the steaming weed graveyard, fished around until I found them, and then put the gardening gloves back on.

Refreshed and enthusiastic at my latest quarry, I chunked the shovel into the base of the lurid purple nightmare with all of my might. In my head, I had already named it the Backhanded Hydra, because it looked bruised, battered, and sly. I kicked hard at the buried shovel, driving it deeper into the ground, and then I leaned on it with every pint of my strength and weight, attempting to leverage up all of the surrounding dirt and expose some of the Hydra’s roots. I must have sliced through at least some part of the root network, because the smell of butterscotch was even stronger now.

I continued to dig and pry, dig and pry, trying to get as cleanly to the bottom of the plant as I could. I wanted to get all of it, and the rule of thumb I had always been taught was that a weed’s root structure was usually twice as large as its sprouted manifestation. I circled around the Hydra with the shovel twice, cutting into the ground and lifting. I wanted that plant to lift clean out by the time I took hold of it: I didn’t want to have to yank it out like an impacted tooth and risk some of its thorns pricking me through my work gloves.

Eventually satisfied that I had tilled enough soil and ripped through enough maggoty-white wire roots with my shark lever, I set it down and grabbed the Hydra in two hands. I gave it a slight, experimental pull, but it still seemed solidly planted. I gave it a harder tug. Nothing. I dug my feet in, squatted, and then lifted up with all of my force. It didn’t budge – it didn’t even strain – signifying that the Hydra’s central root must still be embedded far below the surface, where the soil was still tightly packed.

I tried again after another frustrating round of shovel prying. Nada, although this time I managed to pull off some leaves and break off another length of stalk. Now it would merely be more difficult to get a good grip the next time I tried to yank it out.

Evidently, I was going about this all wrong, and I wasn’t quite sure how to remedy the situation. It was starting to look like it was going to be a really long day. But I had about seven hours of daylight left, and that was plenty of time to wrangle out one stubborn weed from sandy Texas topsoil, even if I had to use a little brute force to get the job done. I grabbed a short spade from the pile of tools. All I needed was a little patience.

I started digging deeply now around the base of the plant, periodically clearing away dirt and flinging it back over my shoulder with the spade. There was a tremendous amount of roots, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that the central root wasn’t just settled and intact – it actually expanded in size the further down it got. It was a dirty trick. More and more I was beginning to realize that the Hydra was just a minor nubbin on a giant community of roots that had no discernible end. The central root had tubes growing on it that spiraled around like thirsty pinwheels, and there were sticky glutinous runners leading off in every direction. I had already severed many of them with my initial blundering, but these runners lay just below the surface and were taut enough to evade all but the most expertly wielded shovelblow. I could actually see tiny purple offshoots budding up all over the lawn now that I was looking for them.

After about an hour of digging, and an hour of shaking, pulling, grunting and sweating, I was no closer to my goal. The central root was the size of my forearm, and no amount of physical persuasion could tease it any direction that would give me a clue as to how deep it actually went.

“Fuck,” I screamed. “This is absolutely ridiculous.”

Out of atavistic frustration, I threw the shovel like an Olympic javelin at the Hydra’s exposed root. To my surprise, the shovel sliced clean through and the hole I had dug started to fill up with its viscous butterscotch juice. The plant landed a foot behind it, shuddering as it fell. I peered into the hole – but most of the juice was now seeping back into the ground. I picked the shovel back up and started filling the dirt back in, until there was no trace left. I tossed the giant plant on top of my graveyard where it seemed laughably out of place.

But this was a petty, Pyrrhic victory.

I knew that if I didn’t destroy all of the roots, the plant would come back. The only thing more resilient than a weed that has already got its foot in the door is perhaps trackball dandruff. And yet, I was sick of dealing with this plant by now. I decided to renege on my decision, and get rid of the other weeds before I came back and finished assassinating these purple Aristocrats.

I spent the rest of the day vigorously uprooting surprised amateurs. My Backhanded Hydra made these crenulated poseurs look like timid calves. I actually managed to wipe most of them out, and while I felt vindicated, I still had a gnawing feeling of unresolved inner conflict. Tomorrow, I would come back with help. Maybe even a little firepower.

2.

My next door neighbor, The Naturalist, drove a bright blue Buick with a broken headlight. This meant he could only drive during the day. Even though he was a deliberately slow and anal driver, getting a ride with him was infinitely better than biking the four miles.

“This is it, right here,” I told him. He wheeled the car over to the curb. We both got out.

“It doesn’t look so bad,” he said.

“I did a lot of work yesterday,” I said. I pointed to the seven black garbage sacks sitting on the sidewalk. The Naturalist nodded his approval.

“So show me this amazing discovery of yours,” said the Naturalist.

I walked him over to the nearest Hydra. He knelt down, and took out a magnifying glass. Something was wrong. I started counting...

“This is fascinating,” he said, clucking his tongue, “I couldn’t even tell you the genus, although it certainly isn’t native. Notice the incredibly thin thorns, normally indicative of a desert plant. Observe, if you will, the color and patina - how it shimmers like the iridescent shell of a scarab or an oil stain. Take heed of its fragrance – to what manner of creature could this possibly make an odiferous plea?”

“Yeah. It’s fucking nuts,” I said softly.

There were seven plants in the front lawn this morning. There had been six yesterday, and I had spent hours cutting that number down to five. I had named these plants Backhanded Hydras because of their many-headed serpentine structure – but it looked like the name was fitting for an even more baffling reason.

There was always the possibility I had simply screwed up my addition…

I decided not to say anything. Instead, I watched the Naturalist mince and caper while stroking his goatee. He took hold of a stalk and gently broke it off with tapered, typewriter fingers. He sniffed it experimentally. He furrowed. He frowned. I could almost see his empty thought bubble.

“Butterscotch,” I said.

“So it is,” said the Naturalist, “I couldn’t place it.”

To my horror, he placed the dripping end in his mouth and began sucking.

“Mmmmm. Even tastes like it, by god!”

“What are you doing? That plant’s poison!” I cried.

“How do you know? All I taste is earth-sugar and rainwater,” said the Naturalist, smugly.

“Look at it! I don’t even want to touch it.”

“It’s beautiful. Besides, plants with thorns rarely ever need further defense from large mammals.”

There was clear juice running down from the corner of his mouth. I stared at it until he flicked it away with his tongue. When he didn’t immediately fall over retching and clutching his chest, I relaxed.

“It’s your hospital bill,” I said, “Let me know if your innards start bleeding and you begin disgorging infected fecal matter into your brain. I’ve never driven a Buick before, but I can probably get you to the hospital.”

The Naturalist ignored me. He went around back, returned with a shovel, and began to dig. I got the hint.

“Don’t dig so close,” I said, joining him with a shovel of my own – a big flat-headed one. “And mind the central root. It’s not as robust as it looks, and you don’t want to cut it through.”

We began to dig, excavating the weed as if it were an ancient archaeological treasure. The Naturalist chewed on a stub of Hydra and hummed garbled Mozart. I tried my best to ignore him.

As the day wore on, we merely found ourselves deeper in a confusing and tangled mess. Our first startling but ultimately fruitless revelation was that all of the plants were connected. Each Hydra had roots that led to the others, making them effectively a single plant, like grass or ivy. The Naturalist nearly wet himself, claiming it was as stunning and as important a biological discovery as he had ever seen, and that he simply must communicate it to his colleagues and professors at the University. I bade him keep his mouth shut until we found out where all of the central roots led, or I would crack him with my shovel and bury him out here.

I was pretty sure I was joking. He gave a wounded and mirthless bark, but he shut up.

“The last thing I need is for this place to be declared some sort of nature preserve. Then I’d never get paid. Our deal still stands: you can keep any specimens you help me dig up for yourself, as long as you don’t say where you got them.”

He nodded, contrite.

“We need a backhoe,” I said finally, surveying our work. The front lawn was now a good three feet lower wherever the Hydras or their roots lay exposed.

“That would be most efficacious,” said the Naturalist. “I fear we have hit clay, and to go any deeper would require exertions of heroic, hubristic proportions.”

“Clay? This stuff feels like rawhide.”

The Naturalist took his shovel and plunged it into one of the trenches. It stuck deep, and its recreational end vibrated in the afternoon air like the silent string of a dampened violin.

“We can make it another grueling four inches on our own,” said the Naturalist. “Or we could defer to the pneumatic drill. It may not be the most efficient means, but it will certainly…”

Before he could finish, I jumped on him and knocked him out of the way. Behind us, his shovel had rocketed up out of the dirt like an inverted falcon or a marble lodged inside Spindletop. It was coming down fast at his head before I registered it and reacted, shoving him to the ground. The shovel landed on the driveway with a scraping clatter, denting the concrete. It suddenly began to rain. Thick, sticky rain. Overwhelmingly pungent clear fluid pelted us as we lay there mystified, and it took a few moments before I realized we were being drenched with Hydra juice.

The earth shook beneath us, and we heard the groan of metal twisting itself around metal. In my mind’s eye, I could see water pipes, gas lines, and sewage drains bending into strange mineral spaghetti as the ground rippled like a stormy lake. There was another sound, too. A deep, subterranean howling. The sound of a massive animal sick with torment.

I rolled over and struggled to my knees. My tackle had conked the Naturalist’s head against the curb, and he was no longer moving.

Each of the Hydras sucked down into the ground in sequence like Bugs Bunny carrots. The sidewalk became unfixed like a torn tire tread, and crumpled in on itself like a five car pile-up. Neighbors and locals began to pour out from nearby houses and shops, and I grabbed the Naturalist by his collar and started pulling him toward the street.

The howling became deafening, and a bubble of turf formed underneath us, lifting us high into the air – level with the roof of the cottage. A Hydra spat through the ground and thwapped me in my face, giving me a nose full of thorns. Taken by surprise, I let go of the Naturalist, and he rolled ass over teakettle down the impromptu hill and out into the street, where a passing mail truck narrowly avoided crushing him by swerving into a fire hydrant. You’ll be shocked and amazed to know that the mail carrier’s first instinct was not (in fact) to protect his load from water damage, but to tend to my bedazzled companion.

I had time to see the Naturalist groggily wake from a fetal position into a dazed hunch before the bubble dropped out from underneath me. It sunk like a punched-in baseball cap, sending me plummeting into a tank-size crater that only moments before had been glorious Mount Holyshit. I thought the ground would brake me, but the dirt where I landed was loose and hollow, and I just kept falling.

3.

I fell, stretching and clawing, until the sky above me was a distant pinprick. I would have been screaming, but my mouth was full of clods and bugs. I could have been falling forever, and when finally I landed in total darkness, it was a slow process of frictional attrition. The dirt gelled around me and I was caught fast. I could still breathe, after spitting out the muck that had collected in my throat, but I already felt the dread panic of inevitable death, and breathing came short and gasping. Had we tapped into some forgotten mine shaft? Was this turning of the earth the result of a punctured gas pocket that would soon engulf my already doomed corpse in chemical flame?

I didn’t have much time to ponder such delicacies. My night eyes came, and with them came the greater Night Eye before me.

I must have been in some kind of cavernous void, because I still had freedom of movement from my torso up. As soon as I realized that I wasn’t dead, I began twisting and flexing – attempting to wrench the rest of me loose as well. It wasn’t difficult. All of the dirt was newly settled and therefore pliant.

As I crawled on top of something cold and dark (it is so incredibly cold that deep underground), I realized that something in the darkness was glowing. A round disk was slightly inflamed in front of me, and it began to move closer.

It grew to the size of a buffalo. I lay on my side and looked up at its hard, vibrant whiteness. Was I insane? Was I alive? Was this the tunnel of light each person must crawl through toward his oblivion?

And then it blinked.

I began to scream. The floor began to rumble and howl.

Daddy, he burns me!

I know, sweety. Sir? Please…please don’t do that…my ears are very sensitive and it makes me angry when you shriek so. I’m still…human…I think…but this anger is very hard to control. It is better for us to sleep, but now we are awake. And now we will talk. Perhaps you shall live. Here.

I abruptly silenced myself in mid-wail. The voice was coming from inside my skull, like how paranoid transients must pick up radio signals from the CIA.

Daddy, is he going to be a new friend?

I don’t know, Annie…try not to scare him.

I’m lonely, Daddy.

I know, honey…but maybe he doesn’t want to stay here with us. We have to get used to being together...by ourselves…and not bothering anybody. For awhile, anyway. We must bargain, or we must move on.

But I want to play, Daddy…

The voices were almost familiar, and filled with such yearning. The giant white circle of burning eye had fixed all of its intensity on me. Above, I could hear quiet creaking. I assumed it was all of the dirt piled on top of the cavern steadily insisting that nature abhors a vacuum.

“Who are you? What’s going on?” I cried into the white.

The eye began to roll like a searchlight, exposing and illuminating the rest of the cave. The floor was Hydra purple – textured like snail shell – and giant pillars of white Hydra root were all that was keeping the dirt from crushing me. I shivered. This must be the heart we were seeking, I thought. Now that I had found it, I wished for a stake carved out of a telephone pole and a dumpster full of garlic. Or perhaps filled with napalm.

My daughter and I can protect you for a limited amount of time. Each day we become more Plant, but each day the Plant becomes more us. Each day my daughter and I too become further as one. If you wish to escape with your life and soul, you must bargain, and bargain well. If you become part of the soil, you will lose both, and join us. It’s not what you think, but you will assuredly desire your current serene stasis when given the choice.

“What do you mean? Current serene stasis?”

You will wish to stay conventionally human. To die with your kind in the next cruel turn of evolution.

The light flared up blindingly brilliant, and I turned away to face my shadow behind. As I sat staring at the circle of white reflected on the wall behind me, two other shadows joined my cowering silhouette. One was demonstrably larger than the other. They wriggled and writhed like sacks of pythons, but maintained the vague human shapes of a full-grown man and a little bob-headed girl.

“Who are you people?” I said. I eased halfway round to try to squinch them into my periphery, but the light was toxic.

We were once as you are. We too were once trapped inside our individual selves like eggs in a carton awaiting the frying pan. I was a claims adjuster for a small insurance company and I was also the previous occupant of the house under which we now linger. My daughter and I. My wife never could handle just one man, so I got custody in the divorce proceedings. We lived here quietly, tending to our business and peaceably cultivating uneventful comfort. But there was an accident…a gas leak. The utilities were old, and the landlord was a negligent coward. He must have found us dead in our living room, slumped over our unfinished game of Chutes and Ladders. We awoke here, buried deep underground.

“The old man didn’t want Haunted House syndrome, eh?”

Tell him about the Plant, Daddy! Tell him about New Life!

I’m getting to that, Annie. We remember nothing of our death, because we were reborn as part of something wonderful before we had even gone cold. The soil took us in, and we have been subsumed by it…our bodies and minds used like creeper vines on wooden trellises. It was a strange transition. We awoke to find ourselves here, in this cavern. All of our needs and fears had vanished, and our hearts were aglow with the deepest, most pure love you could ever imagine. We had no chance to feel damned, for we knew we were in heaven.

Do you feel the love, mister?

“I love a lot of things,” I said. “Pinball, for instance. Keep going.”

I cannot explain very much, because I do not know very much. The Plant of which we are now only a small part gives us immortality, and all it asks is shared use of our reason and industry. It is the New Life, the next stage in the development of consciousness and intelligence for earth. Animals have passion and energy, but are ultimately selfish and lack the patience, thrift, and perspective of vegetation. Deep down we all know this and suffer from it: humanity has caused its own demise and it desires its own destruction. I see that now. It is the losing team. But there is salvation here, if you have the will and imagination for it.

I pondered this, edging toward the back, trying to find the hole that I had fallen through.

“So you used to be human, but then you died under an odd set of convenient circumstances, and now you are part of this mutant vegetable? This is some sort of…um…Bardo experience, right? I collapsed from exhaustion and am now having a very involved speculative journey through grand metaphor.”

The Plant is one. It is the mother and the provider. We consume, and we return to Plant. And the Plant is returning to reclaim its children…slowly…and with poise and precision. If I had known before I was taken, I would have buried more humans myself among the purple.

“That’s pretty fucking disturbing,” I said, “It’s terrible that you guys died and all, but maybe it was just your time. There’s no need to jump to bullshit etiological conclusions about the future of humanity. I mean, assuming I’m not hallucinating right now, I’d say you guys are sort of screwed if you are the intelligent extensions of some sort of corpse-infesting weed.”

Daddy, he makes me sad inside.

I know honey. I told you they never understand. It is their loneliness that makes them so hateful. They do not know the bliss of breaking from their shell and being part of something larger than their own small vision can provide.

“Uh-huh,” I said.

Seriously.

“Uh-huh.”

I mean it.

“Whatever, man. Are you going to murder me, or what?”

No! No…I wouldn’t dream of it. Not me.

Killing is wrong, right Daddy?

Yes, dear. It is the consolation of the ignorant and fearful. But the Plant…the Plant will defend itself. It is not killing if the Plant decides to take you. It is mercy. And your death will merely transcend you. You will see with new eyes…hear with new ears…love with a new, purple center…

“Were you a particularly religious man before you became a zombie plant?”

Spiritual, not religious. Why do you ask?

“Just curious. I really don’t think the Plant wants me. I’m not good at sharing anything, especially my feelings and insides. You seem very nice, but what are my other options?”

If you are so strong, why don’t you turn around and face me instead of talking to my shadow?

The light dimmed a bit. It was still bright enough to be painful as a traffic cop’s flashlight into drunken eyes, but it was no longer something that could broil out your retinas like flapjacks on a griddle.

I felt my mind begin to float and distend. Looking into the circle of light was like being really high, closing your eyes, and then putting your spinning gob on a waterbed. There was a complex strobing sensation. Each thought was massaged from my forebrain, eased out of my skull, and greedily dispatched by the now-pulsating disco tuber in front of me like ketchupy waffle fries. I swear I could hear chewing, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

So you are just a human after all, aren’t you? Nothing special.

Did I ever used to be so silly? I’d rather be lonely than have a big old head full of poop.

“You are killing me, I think. What gives you…the right?” My head wouldn’t budge in either direction. I clawed at my temples and tried to bash my face aside with force, but my fists fell weakly against the side of my head as if in a dream.

Look. Just look.

Suddenly I understood the depth of the affair. The recycling of humanity…how souls commingled deep underground, struggled as supermen, and then became rare delicacies for lucky worms and greenery. I saw the girl and her father as puppets on the end of thorny purple reeds, playing me as a captive audience. They were toys for explaining to me my own predicament. I questioned whether there had even been such a pair. How easily my individuality could be mocked and mimicked by such slow moving genius.

I saw the dead in their graves, tickled and caressed by purple runners all over the world. I saw a world without pain, a world without meaning or bliss. The only emotion I could muster for such an abominable existence was complete disgust. But it didn't matter. The Plant could easily afford to let me be. I was grass in the garden it was growing, and someday I would be mowed.

I started to rise. The Plant began to recede, and I began to squeeze back to the surface. The light began to fade, and then it winked out completely. A part of me realized that I was being lifted by a roiling current of sticky clear juice back out of the hole into which I had fallen, like being ejected out of the blowhole of a whale. A larger and more significant part of me - a part that was slowly dawning with subterranean, transcendent horror - only cared about forgetting everything.

4.

The tube must have curved while I was going insane. I came out in the backyard, covered in muck, sweat, and sweet.

I trudged back to the front. I could hear the Naturalist giving his report to a swelling group of cops and rescue workers.

“I remember waking up this morning, Officer, but that is the extent of my knowledge about the dramatic state of the current dilemma. Perhaps I was kidnapped by errant ne’er-do-wells hoping to arrange a tidy ransom. Surely you understand the well-documented cognitive displacement effect of extreme trauma.”

“Uh-huh. You’ll answer questions when I ask them, and not until then. Once again: is this your Buick, and why in God’s name are you here?”

I started slinking toward the sidewalk, hoping to avoid a similar fate. I put my hands in my pockets to maximize my air of unapproachable surliness. To my shock, I found they were filled with hundreds of hard, purple pellets with flaky peanut shells. Had I been drafted? Was I to be the next Johnny Appleseed, traveling the country and spreading Hydras like religion? These seeds were a message. Fighting them would be absurd. It would be an endless war that humanity had no chance of winning. But why had I been allowed to live? What was I supposed to do now?

“Hey buddy! C’mere! Yer a witness!” yelled a small, portly, ferret-faced pig. I didn’t look up until I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Leave me alone. I don’t know anything.”

“What did you say? I give the orders. You want to come with me and answer some questions, or am I going to have to treat you as hostile? Mind your manners, son.”

“Look: I know exactly where you stand. You are in a fucking uniform. That makes you, guaranteed, an Officer of the Law. But you don’t know the first thing about me or my business. I could be anybody. I could be a Judge. I could be a Law-yer, or a Law-maker for all you know. At best, I am just a citizen that knows his rights. At worst, I am a journalist investigating shoddy construction of the Mayor’s new urban sewage renewal initiative.”

The pig hesitated. I took his hand gently off of my shoulder and squared up with him.

“Do I smell gas?”

He started to look really nervous. I began walking away.

“I guess I won’t quote you on anything, then. You have a good day.”

I didn’t look back, and he didn’t press the issue. Anyway, I had business elsewhere.

The walk back to my apartment would take me right past the Shady Lawn funeral home and cemetery. Which was convenient, although first I would stop by the hardware store for some tools, blasting caps, and cleaning products. I had some weeds to pull.




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the herb said...

In about the 9th paragraph, the line "It was not long before I found my rhythm...." reminds me of that Johnny Cash song about the shoeshine boy who enjoys his job because of getting into the rhythm.
Just saying. No biggie. Back for more comments in a jiff.

the herb said...

In section 2, I like the line, "...and we heard the groan of metal twisting itself around metal."
It's lines like that that fill out a story, that make the reader aware of more senses, of more layers.

the herb said...

Not overly impressed. Maybe a final interview with your friend after the cops are done with him is in order.
I am not usually bored with your stuff, justin, but the father and daughter just don't do anything for me. Their backstory, not impressive. They told him some stuff, and he was pulled back to aboveground, or lifted himself up there. I'd put this one in your bottom 10%; course then again, PETA people and vegetarians are boring to me, even though vegetarians do have some great arguments to eat more veggies.
Anyway, blah blah blah, I'm not helping this story anymore.