By R.J. Hubbard
Brice’s lungs hurt; he can breathe but the air is thick and redolent with a peat-like smell. A wave of vertigo subsides; he raises his head to yell for his wife and son, with whom he was just eating breakfast. No response. He fumbles to his hands and knees and looks around. The entire back of the house, including where his wife and son were sitting moments before, is gone -sheared off with clean edges, as if by laser. Thick foliage presses into the space; he can smell the earthy green of the jungle surrounding him.
Searching room to room, he finds his miniature schnauzer huddled in the corner of the master bedroom disoriented and shaking. “Lady! Come, girl! Where’s Jessie?”
The small white schnauzer lifts her nose searching for a scent. She trots to where the dining room table once sat, peers over the new-formed edge, and whines. Brice heart pounds as he joins her and peers over the edge scared to find Jessie and Grayson below. He sees nothing but thick undulating bush.
Lady whines. “I know, girl. I don’t know what to think either.” Brice consoles as he scratches her neck. Lady turns her head and licks his cheek once before she’s snatched by a green whip-like tentacle that retracts into the thick foliage. A quick and high pitched yelp telegraphs Lady’s fate. He scurries backwards, crab-like, far away from the ledge, crying at the loss of Lady.
Brice is a rational, scientific man; as a psychologist at the state university, he’s accustomed to observation. Drawing upon this experience, he takes a deep breath, and stares in to the sea of green surrounding his cleaved home. Small movements in the brush, not typical movements from wind and creatures, but small purposeful movements catch his attention. Thin green tendrils creep slowly inward, feeling for holds, exploring the textures, and pulling away loose items.
Fighting panic, he flees through the kitchen, grabs his mag-lite from the utility drawer, and opens the garage door happy that this side of the house is intact. He finds what he came to get - the gallon of weed killer stored in the cabinet. Hoping to create a perimeter with the plant poison to prevent further intrusion into his home, he’s satisfied at the heft of the container; there is plenty remaining. Testing his theory, he squirts a few drops on the tiny green filaments reaching beneath the garage door; he giggles, half mad, at the quick jerks by which the tendrils retract.
As an afterthought, he grabs a small sickle and returns to the kitchen. Invading tendrils line the ceiling and snake throughout the chandelier above where the breakfast table once stood. He watches, somewhat entranced, as thick green, hair-lined tentacles creep toward him. Brice swings the sickle severing the succulent tips from scouting tentacles. The wounded plants retract into the bush leaving trails of clear viscous fluid on the brown hardwood floor.
Depressing the trigger on the battery-powered weed killer dispenser, he advances toward the plants yelling “Get the hell out of my house!” Reacting to the poison as if it was acid, the plants retreat into the roiling mass of greenery as he coats the edges of the room with caustic chemical.
When the container empties, he’s satisfied that he has won the battle, for now. He opens his still cold fridge and grabs a beer, and sits against the fridge. An hour ago, he was having breakfast with his family, getting ready to tell Jessie he was leaving her. Now he sits alone in an empty house listening to cracks and creaks as his home is pulled apart by plants. Faced with this reality, he beats himself up about how trivial he and Jessie’s fights are and how much he truly loves her. If he could only go back, he’d make it right. His weeping and self-pity is interrupted by a crash from the dining room.
More angry than scared, he grabs the sickle and marches to the dining room saying “You goddamned plants are really pissing me off!” He stops, mouth agape, speechless at what he sees. A green figure, vaguely human, stands erect, finishing its foray through the broken window; a cut on its hand oozes green liquid. Filaments and tendrils erupt from the figure’s bark-like skin. Brice growls and raises his sickle to strike. The creature opens its mouth baring spines not unlike a Venus flytrap. A sticky fluid emits from a tube-like tongue and coats Brice’s face. Completing the sickle’s arc, Brice fails to hit his mark.
He can’t breathe; the thick plant mucus seals his nostrils and mouth; each gasp drawing it further in. Through the blurry murk covering his eyes, he can see the figure moving toward him and feels its tendrils and filaments writhing and exploring his body, ripping away clothing. Panicked and nearly asphyxiated he can’t scream as he feels the probes snaking and tickling into his ears, pricking his skin, and encircling appendages. Like his house, he’s being torn apart.
Brice’s lungs hurt; he can breathe and gasps for air. Jessie, across the table stares at him wide-eyed. “Are you OK? Are you choking on melon?” she asks.
Confused and gulping air, he looks around and sees his intact home. Lady runs to him, ears perked and hackles raised; she is as confused as he.
“Have I been here the whole time?” He asks.
“Uh, yeah. You said ‘We need to talk’ and then just stopped. I thought you were choking.” Jessie replies , a concerned lilt in her voice. “What did you want to talk about?”
“Nothing. Just that I think it’s time for us to move beyond our little petty squabbles and see the forest through the trees. I love you Jessie and want what we have to work.” He replies, happy to be alive.
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R.J. Hubbard is a fiction writer living in Central Ohio with his wife, son, and dog.