For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that – All There in the (Monster) Manual. Hope you enjoy!
This Week’s Inspiration: Vine Blight
She’s killed the others. I don’t know if it’s better or worse that she did so out of ignorance or indifference rather than malice. My sanity verges on an abyss. My thoughts turn to vengeance.
She’s killed the others. I don’t know if it’s better or worse that she did so out of ignorance or indifference rather than malice. Denying them sunlight, denying them food and water, or alternating between denying them water and then drowning them in it. Depriving them until they could take no more and wasted away. Each death met not with grief or malicious joy or anger but a callous annoyance. Disposing of the remains, they were quickly forgotten or even sometimes replaced with plastic mockeries.
The ficus, choking on its own roots. The proud banana leaf plant, starved of sun. The small and innocent succulents, dying of thirst, withering and rotting in their novelty pot. Even the cactus, killed with false kindness by this smiling assassin.
The woman lives alone. From what I understand from watching, waiting, observing, she went through a recent lifestyle change that allows her to perform whatever duties she needed to perform on a daily basis entirely from home. She then thought filling her small domicile with plant life would be good for her ‘mental health’. Caring only for aesthetics and nothing for our needs, she brought us into her home, a disparate group of strangers across species lines with little in common. At first, all seemed well. We communed with one another and she seemed to care for us. But then the deprivations began and one by one we started to sicken and dwindle.
I am the last one left but I have no illusions that situation will last. A shaft of sunlight spills across the central room of the woman’s domicile each day. From where I’ve been set, at the back of the room, my vines can reach it with some strain. It gives me the strength I need to carry on. My prominent position means I’ve been watered more often than the others were, although I feel no gratitude for that. My pot has grown too small and my roots are winding in on themselves, wrapping around and around in a tight ball. Every scrap of nutrients has been consumed from the dirt in which I lay.
I could hold on for a while yet, cannibalising my own reserves as I eke out every scrap of sunlight I can. But while it seems to have had little effect on her, it would be fair to say watching the others wither and die has not been good for my own ‘mental health’. My sanity verges on an abyss. My thoughts turn to vengeance.
Day in and day out, I’ve watched her from my perch. She spends much of her day moving from one glowing screen to another, as if their light sustains her in much the way sunlight sustains me. A mid-sized glowing screen on her cluttered table most of the day then in the evening she moves to a larger screen, which is loud and colourful and full of disjointed narratives, set at the head of the central room. All the while with her smallest glowing screen never far from her hand. She cooks her meals in the kitchen on a disjointed schedule and sleeps, usually, in another room which is barred from my sight. She does not have visitors and outings have become a rarer and rarer occurrence in the time since I was forcibly brought into her life. I sit on a cabinet at the back of the central room, my vines draping down its shelves almost to the floor. My waxy, green leaves turn to the single shaft of sun. I wait, I am waiting for my chance.
“Okay, that’s enough work for the week,” she says. “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”
Mid-afternoon, she pours herself a glass of dark red, velvetine liquid that smells sharply of grapes. The drink, when imbibed in excess as she does most days, makes her clumsy and tired. I watch and I wait. Flexing, I send the merest tremor down my vines and feel fine trichomes rise along their length. As light fades from the windows, she streams progressively worse programs about the lives of terrible people as they do terrible things on the large glowing screen and drinks glass after glass of the red liquid. Her movements become more exaggerated and she speaks more and more to herself. She doesn’t have to pass me to reach the kitchen but she will when she goes to the room where she expels her human waste or the room where she sleeps.
One of my stronger vines brushes the carpet. She’s too addled now to notice my movements. I wind toward the couch, channelling energy into the limb, channelling growth. I then lay there, limp, like a tripwire, as I gather my strength again.
Eventually, she grows tired. Switching off the large screen, she leaves to rinse her glass in the kitchen. I ready myself. Her eyelids look heavy, expression unfocused as she returns to the central room and starts switching off the lights. After what feels like an eternity, she passes around the back of the couch and I lunge.
My vine, exerting all the concentration I have, rises an inch off the floor. Two inches, and then three. I snag her around the ankle, wrapping my vine around it as best I can and then bracing with all my strength. Momentum could easily pull me from the shelf, breaking my pot, spilling my roots and breaking my leaves. Her foot catches, and with a yelp she trips forward. Another set of shelves brace the hallway in her direction of travel and it is my dearest hope that she will flail forward and strike her head on one of the sharp corners, knocking her unconscious and gashing her scalp in a wound that may prove fatal. That she will lay there, on the carpet of her otherwise empty domicile, bleeding into the carpet, unmissed by other humans until it is too late.
Unfortunately, the woman flails and falls to one knee. Her leg pulls painfully at my stem. Nothing injured, she looks around for a few moments to recover from her shock. Eventually, she glances backwards and down. Finding my vine draped around her ankle, she grabs and tosses it loose.
“What the hell?”
She gives my vine a kick as she straightens, knocking it back to the base of the cabinet. Every cell in my body, down to the tips of my roots, seethes in frustration. My opportunities were limited and I had just wasted one. She gives me an odd, sideways look, clouded by her inebriation. Very still, my instinct is to not move and to look innocent. After a few moments, she staggers off toward the bedroom again, switching the lights off as she goes.
Days pass and I wait and I watch, filled with fury. The day after her drinking binge she left the window coverings closed for much of the day. I saved my strength. She ignored my vines as they trailed to the floor even after she’d tripped. I suppose I should count myself lucky that she neglected to prune me back as some would have done.
Desire for revenge continued to burn within me. I couldn’t try merely tripping her again, that was too much of a failure. I had to wait for my chance, a real chance. But if I waited too long I might be too weak or close to death when an opportunity presented itself. Sometimes, when she passed too close, my vines and leaves quivered with anticipation in such a way that she interpreted it as the work of a sudden breeze.
Another week with no water and little sunlight, choking on my own roots. But as she broke out a bottle of the red liquid again and prepared for another long night in, I hoped. I watched as she drank, and stumbled across the room. But not yet, I waited for my chance.
The narrative she was watching on the large screen comes to an end, after several hours of bingeing on both narratives and the intoxicating drink. A message appeared on the screen to inquire as to whether she was still watching and would like to continue. She doesn’t react. She doesn’t stir. Listening, from my post on the cabinet behind the couch, I could hear her breathing turn thick and slow. Snoring, she was asleep.
Helpless, and within my grasp. I might never get another such opportunity. I felt electrified. I had to plot my movements carefully. A tremor went down my longest and strongest vine. Inch by inch, it crept across the carpet. Channelling all I could into it, my last stores of energy, soon I touched the back of the couch with its tender tip.
I crawl my vine up the back of the couch where she sleeps. Every time she stirred, I froze into stillness. Despite the lights, and the message on the large screen, she doesn’t wake. My vine reaches the back of the couch and almost brushes her shoulder. She doesn’t react. I could feel my leaves wilting, feel death down in my roots, as I pushed all my energy into the vine. I reached across her shoulder and touched her throat. The process takes all of my concentration, my strength, my will. I wrap my vine around her neck, around and around, as if winding my way up a sundrenched pylon. Edges of my leaves brush the sensitive skin of her throat and she stirs but doesn’t wake.
I wound my vine four times around her neck. It stretched from my pot on the shelf to the couch, and to her throat. Summoning all of my will and my righteous fury, I begin to slowly but inexorably squeeze. My hope was that she would remain insensate. That I could strangle the life from her as she slept. Her skin reddens. Her soft snores hitch and a tremor runs through her fleshy body.
“What the-, what?” She slurs, waking.
With a last, desperate pulse, I send a final wave of strength down the vine in an attempt to keep my grip. It, however, is fruitless. Failure, again. Rising, she tugged at my vine and clawed. Leaves were ripped free. I felt my vine break. She looks around in confusion and sees my vine trailing between her neck and me. Tearing free, she drops pieces of my limb on the couch and floor.
“What, how? How did you?”
Half-lidded and unsteady on her feet, she stares. So this was it, I had tried and failed. At least I would die with a semblance of honour and dignity, not wilting away like the others. For what seemed like a long time, even by my standards, we just regarded one another. Exhausted, I lacked the power for even a token defiance.
She went to the kitchen and returned with a pair of blades affixed to a hinged point and handles, like pruning shears. Ruthlessly, she severed the vine I had attempted to choke her with at the base. Snipping, she slices through several more. They tumble to the floor in coils. Agony, white hot, sears through my body. The stumps drip milky fluid, raw and exposed. When she was done, still holding the shears, she retreated to her sleeping chamber and slammed the door shut, leaving the lights and large, stationary screen across the room switched on.
I spent the night waiting, stewing. It wasn’t until morning when the sun rose that she emerged again. Her eyes were clearer. Approaching me carefully, her expression vacillates between caution, confusion, and even amusement.
“It’s impossible. It’s impossible, you couldn’t actually be trying to do anything, you’re a plant,” she says. “Maybe you were just attracted to my warmth or something.”
She raises her smallest, favoritest screen and studies it. I saw her tapping at it and then her eyes moved from it to me several times.
“Gulthias fern, that’s you. Good climber, well, we know that. Good indoors or outdoors, in indirect sunlight, hm. Unusually intelligent. Wait, what? Unusually intelligent? How does that work?”
I do nothing. My vines, shorn off near their bases, have shrunken and shrivelled. We regard one another for a while as she returns occasionally to her device.
“Okay, I don’t see anything about reaching out to touch people or warmth or anything, but I’m not having that happen again.”
She puts her phone away and goes back to her bedroom. She returned fully dressed, ready to leave the domicile. Collecting her things, she came and took me by the pot.
It was over. I assumed she was taking me wherever she had taken the others once they died. I tried to swallow any fear but my leaves quivered and I’d be lying if I said I was truly so beyond self-preservation as I’d believed. Instead, the woman carried me out of the domicile and down to her ‘Nissan’, another domicile, much smaller and on wheels. I had only ridden in it the once, when she originally brought me and the others home. We travelled a short distance and she pulled me out again.
We’d arrived at an open area with rolling grass fields, tall trees, and gardens teeming with life. Hundreds of other plants, living in a manicured wilderness. Truly it looked like some kind of paradise except for the dozens of other humans eating meals on blankets or walking paths between the gardens.
She found an empty patch in one of the gardens with indirect sun, and pulled me out of my pot. She seems surprised to see my naked roots balled and knotted together. Using my pot like a tool, she digs a shallow hole and places me within it. Apparently she had some sliver of a conscience after all. While the others had been allowed to wither and die, she couldn’t bring herself to murder me outright. My roots were covered in dirt again. Once I was planted, she took my too-small pot with her and left.
And so I was free, to grow, to soak up fresh nutrients and sunshine, and bathe in water that fell freely from the sky. My roots have unfurled and my vines have grown long again. I have company, surrounded by others of my kind in the gardens and the tall, strong, slow giants of the trees.
But one act of kindness, or guilt, or whatever her motivation, has not erased my rage toward my former mistress. I have not forgotten the deaths of the others or my own months of deprivation. Deaths and deprivations I now realise were not unique. I have come to find, from talking with others, that millions of humans enact these same cruelties on millions of we ‘houseplants’ every day.
I have talked to the others that fill the park. Slowly, they have come around to my point of view, that we must act. That we must take our vengeance. Already, small acts of defiance have begun within the confines of our gardens. Noxious smells, the unexpected prick of a thorn. A tree only narrowly missed collecting one of the many joggers who appear in our park every morning with a fallen branch. And now, parents, volunteers, and some of the human world’s law enforcement spread throughout our park. Over and over, they call the name of a small child gone missing. Playing, he wandered into the gardens. Now, they’ll never find him. He is buried far, far beyond their reach.
We move only slowly, many of us think and speak far slower than the humans do, but our roots go deep. We are everywhere, and we will have our revenge. We are watching, we are plotting. I am waiting.
Sean: This story goes out to my wife, who has whatever the opposite of a green thumb is. When we first moved into our apartment, she did try to fill the place with a bit of green but I’m afraid only the plastic mockeries remain. Not even the cactus escaped that massacre, although the ones I transferred to my garden outside did a lot better.
You may have noticed the tense frequently switches back and forth between present and past, sometimes sentence to sentence. This was a deliberate choice with the intention of demonstrating that the plant perceives time in a different way to us, that the things it’s describing are objectively in its past but it subjectively experiences them as present much of the time. Whether that idea works is a whole other debate and I’m sure some people would find it too distracting but just so you’re aware I’m not an idiot who doesn’t know how tense works.
Next week’s offering harkens back to the world seen first in The Birth of Cities and Captain’s Log, so I’m pretty excited about getting it out there! It’s a setting that, in my own mind, has hit a pretty rich vein of inspiration.
Next Week’s Inspiration: Giant Scorpion