Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Five

Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4 if you missed them

“What happens to the rabbits?” I asked.

“The same thing that happens to us all,” said my great uncle Echart.

“Right,” I said.

For the rest of the buggy ride, I avoided looking at the rabbits in their little cages. The inhabitants of Innswale put them out by their mailboxes, apparently for Echart to collect, because they still followed the “old ways.” What old ways? And why did they all ban cars for a whole month?

Not a proper month, really. The last two weeks of June and the first of July, because that’s when I said I could come visit. A chill came over me.

No it couldn’t be. Surely, they did this every June. It had nothing to do with me.

Instead of the rabbits, I focused on the rear end of the horse pulling the buggy. It was round and speckled white, and as pleasant as could be expected. It was also puzzling. Nobody said anything about this before I came here. I mean, we all knew Echart’s side of the family was weird. They don’t like technology. They spend too much time in the woods. Blah blah blah.

Too me, all this seemed beyond the pale, and probably something I should have been told about before coming here. For this, and I still didn’t know what “this” was, I’d given up my full yearly allotment of vacation time. I decided I was far too much of a people pleaser, and really needed to learn to say no.

The front yard of Echart’s home was as large as most lots in my neighborhood, and a plethora of my distant relations milled about under the great umbrellas of trees. Packs of children ran around the shrubberies.

As we meandered up the drive towards the house, they were drawn to us as if by magnetic attraction. Older children fetched the rabbits from the back seat of the buggy, cooing an exclaiming over them. Others grabbed my bags. Me carrying them myself was out of the question.

A crowd of cousins of various kinds escorted me to the front door, our procession led by an eager older lady puffing under the weight of my bags. Voices gabbled around me as I was introduced to more names and faces than I could possibly remember.

The house was sprawling and old. The hardwood floors protested with the weight of feet upon it, but thankfully people had started to drift away from the procession, and back to whatever they were doing as the novelty of my arrival lost its luster.

Once we arrived at my room everyone cleared out and left me alone for a bit so I could freshen up and what not. I didn’t stay up there long. Everything was poufy and flower-print, and I felt if I stayed there too long the vines on the wallpaper would come to life and strangle me.

I went downstairs, and then out into the backyard where everyone seemed to be hanging out. Echart’s wife, Maria, found me a chair in the shade and plied me with sugar cookies and lemonade.

Large rabbit hutches were stacked up against the house, which at least solved the mystery of where the rabbits had gone for the time being. The hutches were decorated with ribbons and the children fed the rabbits flowers through the wire mesh.

A petite woman with a shoulder-length bob sat down in the wicker chair next to me. “Hi, I’m Anna,” she said. “I’m one of the other…visitors.”

“Oh. So this is a thing, then,” I said.

“I’m pretty sure everything is a thing.” Anna giggled.

“But you know what I mean. An event. It’s not just me visiting, for reasons.”

“Yeah. I think there’s about five of us.”

“So are you on Echart’s side of the family, or…”

“I’m not. Actually I think maybe one of my uncle’s married Echart’s cousin. But no, I’m from one of the other Innswale ‘old families’.”

“Oh, okay. I guess this is more of a thing than I thought.”

“I know, right? The secrecy is crazy. I tell you though, if we’re being inducted into a cult or something, I’m out of here.”

“Yup, I’ll be right behind you.” I took a sip of my lemonade. “Hey, do you know what’s with the rabbits?”

“No. There’s something with the rabbits?”

“People just left them by their mailboxes for us to pick up.”

“Oh, weird.”

Anna had opted for the pink lemonade, spiked with raspberry cordial.

“The car thing is a pain, though,” she said.

“Oh yeah. Do they do that every June?”

“Different times. Depending on when it works for people to come.”

“It’s for us? It can’t be for us. That’s crazy.”

“It is, but it’s true.”

“Why?”

Anna shrugged and nibbled on a sugar cookie. “I guess we’ll find out.”

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Four

Click for Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 if you missed them.

The coffee was a mistake. They didn’t have half-caf, but I felt like I should at least get some credit for having asked. Nevertheless, I was fully wired and in no way able to cope with what I found when I finally arrived in Innswale. At first I thought I had gone the wrong way, that it was some kind of mistake.

A metal gate stretched across the road, bearing the sign “no motorized vehicles beyond this point.” Clearly, I had wandered onto the access road for a park, or private property. But no, another sign stood to the side of the road, next to the metal gate. A squat obelisk built of stones proudly bore a large copper sign that said “Welcome to Innswale.”

I stared from one sign to the other. They couldn’t both be correct, could they? It didn’t seem possible, and yet they had both clearly been there for a long time, and couldn’t have been placed by accident.

A dirt road broke off to the right, and I wondered if maybe there was some way around this odd edict. But no, as my car crawled closer, I saw an array of parked cars through the thick tree canopy and underbrush. Some, judging by the quantity of dirt and forest debris collected on them, had evidently been there for a long time.

I was stuck. On the one hand, I had driven many miles to be here, and there were people expecting me. On the other, parking my car and continuing on foot was too bizarre to be the correct response. The sound of a horse-drawn buggy clip-clopping down the road interrupted my musing, though the quandary wasn’t resolved until I saw Echart lean out of the buggy’s cab and waved at me.

I waved back, and went to park my car, trying to normalize the situation in my mind. Innswale is not an Amish or Mennonite town, or anything like that. But I had heard that quite a few people there preferred a low-tech lifestyle. Had this segment of the population managed to make bylaws enforcing their preferences?

Echart hadn’t mentioned anything, but then I didn’t hear from him that often. Though one would think he’d have mentioned it after I said I would come visit.

After I parked, I lugged my suitcases towards the metal gate separating Innswale from the rest of the world. Echart greeted me warmly and threw my bags in the back of the buggy. He was a tall beanpole of a man with a wizened face, and a strength that belied his years. The sparse mop of grey on his head was always slightly disheveled, and the white stubble on his chin made it look like he’d dipped the lower half of his face in sugar.

“Is this a new bylaw? This no cars thing,” I said.

“Oh no,” he said. “We do this every year. Sort of a tradition.”

“How long does it last?”

“It’ll last the month.”

“Is there something special about this month?”

“Yes.” A conspiratorial grin crossed his face. “Oh yes. But we’ll get to that later.”

We exchanged small talked as the buggy rattled into town. He asked how the drive had been. Long, but not bad. I asked what the horse’s name was. Bitterberry. Which I thought was odd, but didn’t say so. Aren’t bitter berries usually poisonous?

We drew to a stop at maybe the second drive way we’d come to. I wondered if we’d arrived already.

“Hold on,” Echart said. “I won’t be a minute.”

As he walked up the drive I noticed a rabbit in a small cage, just beside the mailbox. Echart retreived the cage, and put it in the back of the buggy on top of my bags.

“What’s that about?” I asked.

“Some of the townspeople like to keep up the old ways,” he said.

I waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t.

We picked up three more rabbits before the end.

“So, what happens to the rabbits?” I asked.

“The same thing that happens to all of us,” he said cheerfully.

“Right.”

Now unsettled on many levels, I held my hands in my lap and fiddled with my wedding ring. The coffee was most definitely a mistake. I had to pee so bad. I hoped indoor plumbing wasn’t verboten this month as well as cars.

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Three

Click for Part One or Part Two if you missed them

The town where Echart lived was tiny, and ridiculously out of the way. Just finding it was a challenge. After the turn off from the highway, I had to rely on the map he’d emailed to me. Inniswale literally was not on any map I could find, and even Google Earth apparently had never heard of it. In this day, and age, I found it hard to understand how that could happen, unless it was intentional.

The further I got from the highway, the more narrow and winding the road became, making my journey considerably longer than I anticipated. In this day of cars and airplanes whizzing around at hyperspeed, it’s hard to grasp the scale of places. But here it seemed, distance had begun to reassert itself, and I had the sensation of going back in time. Back to a time when the only relevant things that existed were me and the expanse of rolling hills and sagebrush around me, because whatever else existed couldn’t come save me if I needed it.

I was on my own in this strange knobby place, and if I couldn’t make it out here it would swallow me up without even really noticing I’d ever been there at all. So as the gas meter on my car began to run a bit low, I was rather relieved to start seeing signs of civilization. Including, eventually, a gas station.

It was a nowhere place, on the way to nowhere else, and so didn’t bother making the amenities accessible to anyone except the locals who already knew where everything was. I had to poke around a bit to find the gas station, and eventually came across it near what looked a like a hiking trailhead. In this case the convenience store seemed poorly named, and I decided against going in.

It looked like the kind of place you would find pine needles on the floor, and strange insects buzzing around the windows. Anyway, more coffee would only add to my nerves.

At least it seemed there was a cell tower around somewhere, as my phone finally showed a few bars. So I was able to call Chris and confirm that I hadn’t managed to accidentally drive off the face of the earth yet.

“Traffic wasn’t bad at all. I’m just filling up, I think I should get there in about two hours or so,” I said.

“Okay, call me when you get there. I’ve got to go before the twins start a reenactment of the Lord of the Flies.” Chris’s voice came to me muffled and staticky through the lousy connection.

I laughed. “Alright, talk to you soon.”

I turned to walk back to my car and saw that a small elderly lady in a paisley cardigan had snuck up behind me. I nearly jumped out of my skin but managed a “hello” that didn’t quite sound like I’d swallowed my tongue.

“Are you lost, dear?” she said.

“No, just passing through.”

Her brow furrowed. “Oh? Where you headed?”

I gave her the name of the town and her eyebrows nearly reached her receding hairline.

“Oh. I see.” She turned and began to shuffle away.

“This is the right way to go for Innswale, right?”

She glanced at me over her shoulder. “Yes, if Innswale is where you’re trying to get to.” She turned away, and mumbled the next words to herself. “Whether that’s the right way to go is another matter entirely.”

I decided I would go in to the convenience store and get a coffee. It would be my third that day, but I felt a little more fortification was necessary.

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Two

Click here for Part One if you missed it.

“Well I’m not going,” I said. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to.”

My husband, Chris, handed me a plate to dry. It was part of a set we’d been given as a wedding present, an ugly grey print with some sort of animal on it. Rabbits or squirrels, I couldn’t tell. I’d hoped by now we would have broken enough of them to justify buying new plates, but they had proven annoyingly resilient.

“I mean, I can’t take an extra month off work,” I said.

“True,” said Chris. “Unless we didn’t go camping this year.”

“Then there’s the kids. Lily has track meets, and twins have their archery tournament. I can’t miss those.”

“Yup, we’re pretty busy. Except for the last weeks of June, and the first weeks of July.”

I threw my towel at him. “Do you want me to go?”

“No, of course not.” He planted a kiss on my forehead. “Unless that’s what you want.”

“It’s not.”

“Well then.”

He handed me my towel back and we got on with the dishes. It wasn’t a prestigious task, but it did give us a chance to talk without the kids clamoring for our attention, since they all scattered after dinner lest they be roped into dish washing duty. We’d done dishes by hand by necessity after our dishwasher broke, and it had done so much for our communication we decided not to replace it.

“Do you think I should go?” I said.

“At this time, we can neither confirm nor deny…”

“Very funny.”

“I think if you really didn’t want to go we wouldn’t still be talking about it,” said Chris.

I sighed. What did it mean to want something?

I didn’t think I’d like visiting Echart and the others much. I remembered visiting with my parents as a child. It was awkward, the food was questionable, and their house smelled strange. It would be different as an adult, sure, but that didn’t mean it would be worth passing up our yearly camping trips.

And yet…

I had always been something of a historian. Not in any kind of official or professional way, academia didn’t offer the kind of job security I was looking for back when I was making those sorts of decisions. But the origins of things fascinated me. Especially with the rise of reality TV shows about people’s ancestors.

My father’s side of the family were steadfastly uninterested in that sort of thing, so I’d never gotten far in my attempts at intergenerational sleuthing.

“Well, all right then. I’m going,” I said. “Now come here and kiss me properly.”

Part Three

Roots · Story Series

Roots – Part One

“What do you mean, she’s different now?” asked Emily.

I sighed, this wasn’t how I wanted our coffee date to go. It was supposed to be a light catch-up, so we could talk about our jobs and our kids and just about anything but this.

But she’d asked me if I was planning on traveling anywhere, and it just came out.

“It’s hard to say. A lot of little things that maybe don’t add up to much,” I said, fiddling with the swizzle stick in my macchiato.

“Like what?”

“She had a group of friends that would go to the movies every week, she barely goes now. She came to the family get-together two weeks ago, but she only stayed for about half an hour. She’s gotten into gardening and clean eating.”

“You’re right, it doesn’t sound like much.”

“I know, but she acts different, too. More reserved. I don’t know.”

An errant lock of hair had somehow escaped my messy bun, and the wind blew it into my face. I brushed it aside and tucked it behind my ear. Emily and I both felt more comfortable in the coffee shop’s outdoor area.

“Do you think you’ll go?” Emily took a sip of her chai latte.

“My branch of the family tree pretty much never does. My cousin was the first in a while. But Echart really wants me to come visit.”

“And Echart is your…dad’s cousin, right?”

“Second cousin, I think.”

“Well I’d say go if you want to,” Emily said. “The Interior is beautiful this time of year. I’d be worried if it seemed like your cousin joined a cult, but otherwise…”

I shook my head. “No, it’s nothing like that.”

“Have you asked your cousin what happened when she went to visit?”

“She just said if I wanted to know, I had to go there myself.”

“Huh. Weird.”


Part Two

Short Stories

A Hole in the Sky – Short Story

Image by Simon from Pixabay

“What do you mean, a hole?” Thon stumbled but caught himself, struggling to keep up with his longer-legged sibling on the steep grassy slope.

Dahlia slowed to a trot and then stopped to look back. “A hole. Or a window, or something.”

Thon caught up to her and stomped his front hoof. “You’re not making sense. The sky is empty. You can’t have a hole in something that isn’t there.”

Dahlia twitched her whiskers imperiously. “You’ll see when we get there.”

Thon’s ears flattened in annoyance. Everyone thought he couldn’t understand things because he was too young, but how could he when nobody would explain anything?

“I’m not going all the way up the hill if you won’t say what you mean.”

Dahlia continued up the slope, tossing her next words over her shoulder at him. “Well go back then, if you’re going to be such a kitten.”

Thon scrambled up the slope, grumbling to himself. He was not a kitten. He was almost ten years old, which she knew perfectly well. It wasn’t his fault his legs were so short.

Angrily crashing through a clump of poufy-flowered grasses, Thon was rewarded with a spray of pink pollen in his face. Thon sneezed and shook himself. He frowned and looked around in time to see Dahlia disappearing behind a stand of aspen trees.

With a mischievous grin, Thon bent down to grab the base of one of the grasses in his mouth, and yanked it out of the ground. He continued up towards the grove, holding his head high to keep his prize from dragging on the ground. The fluffy flower would lose some of its pollen on the way, but there should be enough left to make pelting Dahlia with it worthwhile.

When Thon passed the grove, he found Dahlia standing on a rock at the top of the hill. She stared quizzically at the sky.

“See?” she said.

Thon didn’t see. It looked perfectly normal. Except for one patch where the sky was a slightly different shade of blue, and the clouds didn’t match up. It was like looking at a wall painted to look like the sky, but there was a window you could see the actual sky through. Only they were both the real sky.

“That’s weird,” Thon said. Or at any rate, that’s what he would have said if his mouth wasn’t full of plant material.

Dahlia turned to look at him, to make sense of his garbled statement. Thon was about to pounce and attack her with the flower when a roar split the sky. It was the loudest sound either of them had ever heard.

Thon ducked his head down between his front legs to block his ears, but that didn’t do much good. It just kept going on and on, like an angry waterfall.

The two creatures ran for cover in the trees. They didn’t notice the small, bird-like object crossing the odd-looking patch of sky. If they had, they couldn’t have imagined the chaos going on above.

In the cockpit of the Boeing 787, the pilots were struggling to understand why they had made landfall several hours ahead of schedule, and why the coastline looked nothing like they had come to expect after several years of flying the route from Houston to Sydney. What was worse, they had completely lost all GPS navigation, and could not raise anyone on radio.

To the great relief of everyone involved, after about five minutes the 787 found itself flying over the Pacific Ocean once again, and the sky above the hill where Thon and Dahlia hid amongst the trees was once again quiet.

Want more? Check out:

Bridge: Part One

Green: Part One

Roots: Part One

Short Stories

Green: Part 4 – April WordPrompt

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

I thought it was over after I threw out the strange orchid. It wasn’t.

For the rest of the day I kept to the guest bedroom, trying to pretend the whole thing hadn’t happened. I was psyched about the job opening in my old classmate’s firm, and so I cyber-stalked him and his colleagues and their competition. Just to get a good sense of what I was getting into.

I also kept putting resume’s out other places, just in case. It wouldn’t hurt to have more than one offer on the table.

When I eventually had to come back downstairs for food that evening, I found my sister staring at one of her houseplants. It looked like there was an odd sprout in it, but I wasn’t really familiar enough with the flora in this house to know whether or not it was unusual.

She wasn’t petting it, which was good enough for me.

The carpets seemed to have acquired a greenish tint in places. Maybe from the dust the orchid puffed out when I took it too the garage. I vacuumed, and that helped a bit.

It didn’t get better. It was never got as bad as it was that first day, but the house was steadily getting greener and fuzzier. I told myself it really wasn’t that much different than it had been before. Maybe the furniture had always been growing mossy stuff.

I vacuumed twice a day to keep the worst of it out of the carpets at least, and got rid of anything particularly orchid-like growing in the other houseplants. None of this seemed to bother my sister, either the growing things or my interference with them.

She didn’t leave the house, or answer the phone. I had to remind her to change clothing and feed herself, but she would if I told her to.

It was all beyond ridiculous, but it was temporary. The meetings with my former classmate and his colleagues went fantastic, and before I knew it, I had an official job offer and a start date. I was getting my life back.

It seemed like an eternity but finally the morning came. I carefully lint-rolled every bit of plant material off my work clothes, and reorganized my favorite briefcase.

I hustled downstairs, aiming for the front door. Fluff and dust kicked up in my wake. I would have to re-lint roll myself in the car. No matter. I opened the door to leave.

“Are you going?” said my sister.

I stopped.

My sister stood by a tall potted tree fern that was now dripping with something like spanish moss. She hadn’t said a word to me unless I spoke to her first in days.

I scratched at my arm. “Yes. My new job starts today. I told you that.”

“Are you going to leave me?”

A queasy knot settled in the pit of my stomach. I could leave. In fact, I had already perused a few apartment listings, and contacting landlords to arrange viewings was on my to-do list for next week.

But what about her? She wouldn’t leave, I knew that. Or if she did, she would take it with her. Her clothes already had fuzzy greenish patches, and her complexion was pale and sallow.

“No,” I said. “I’m going to stay here with you.”

I closed the door, and we walked over to the couch. A big potted hibscus tree sat in the middle of the room. It’s flowers were huge. They’d once been white, but now they were light green and dramatically splattered with dark red spots.

Dust hung in the air, visible in the rays from the window, and almost seemed to shimmer.

My phone rang from my purse by the front door.

The dust looked like krill drifting in the ocean currents. I sat on the couch with my sister and thought about whales swimming through the living room and sifting pollen out of the air.

Want more? Check out:

Bridge: Part One

A Hole in the Sky

Roots: Part One

Short Stories

Green: Part 3 – April WordPrompt

Click on the links for Part 1 or Part 2 if you missed them

The job search went better than I expected that morning. I didn’t quite manage to land a job offer on the first day, but I did have a good lead. Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I put out a message on LinkedIn, just letting everyone know I was in the market for a new opportunity.

As it happened, a few friends of mine from college had put together a business venture two years ago. Their endeavor had been much more successful than mine, and they were looking add someone with my skill set to the team. It was better than I could have hoped for. What better way to get back up on the horse? And this time with some backup. I had a lunch date set up with their team in two days.

By the time I’d hammered out the details, I was starting to get more than peckish. I glanced over at the clock. 11 am already?

No great surprise, time does march on. But I was surprised I hadn’t heard anything from downstairs. My sister must be up by now, and yet there had been no exclamations of surprise, or excited phone calls to other botanically-inclined friends. Had she left for work, or errands, without noticing somehow?

That hardly seemed likely, given how excited she was about it yesterday, even before it doubled in size. I didn’t know what to expect when I came downstairs, but if I’d made a list, what I saw would have been at the bottom of it.

My sister sat at the table staring at the orchid with a vacant, sleepy smile. She was petting one of the orchid’s large, fuzzy leaves. As I came closer, I realized to my horror that the hairs on the leaves were embedding themselves in her skin, giving her palm its own fuzzy green-brown coat.

“What are you doing? Stop that.” I grabbed her hand and pushed the orchid away.

She looked startled for a moment, but her face soon reverted to a wide-eyed calm. “It’s really soft. Feel it.”

I’d known my sister to do some kooky things, but this was bizarre. She almost seemed high.

“Um, no thanks. You just say here for a second,” I said. “And I’ll get rid of this.”

I carefully picked up the orchid by the bottom of the cracked mug, careful not to let the leaves touch me, and then hustled out of the room. My sister watched me remove the orchid passively, which was somehow more disturbing than if she’d fought to keep it. The orchid shed dust like pollen or spores all over the place as I carried it through the house. I tried not to jostle it.

What was I going to do? Duct tape, I thought.

They use duct tape like a waxing strip to remove soft hair-like cactus spines. That would probably work. I chucked the orchid, mug and all, into the garbage can in the garage. In one corner of the garage my sister had a disorganized table with a bunch of tools and home-repair type items on it, and I poked around there until I found the duct tape.

My arm was itchy.

I looked at the duct tape and I remembered how for most of my formative years I thought it was called duck tape and didn’t this duct tape actually have yellow ducks on it or was it actually spots? I should probably actually call this duct tape duck tape only it actually didn’t have anything yellow on the tape no spots or ducks or geese or anything. I used to be afraid of geese but they’re actually far too small to back up their threats so I really should have been afraid of swans, because they’re just as aggressive but they’re huge and I think they could kill a person. They’re so beautiful too they would get away with it because no one would believe it a swan could get away with murder so easily plus how would you arrest a swan they don’t have wrists to put handcuffs on?

I blinked.

The orchid was in my hand again. Or maybe I had never dumped it at all?

I threw it away, again or perhaps for the first time, making sure it didn’t touch me. Only it already had. An itchy patch on my arm the size of a silver dollar was studded with those fine hairs. My stomach growled and my feet hurt from standing. How long had I been here?

I laid a strip of duct tape over the patch of hairs, and pulled it away quickly. The irritating, and possibly worse, hairs came with it, bar none. Excellent.

When I went back into the kitchen I found my sister where I’d left her. I used the duct tape to remove the stinging hairs on her hand.

“Does this hurt?” I asked.

“Nope,” she said.

“Why were you doing that?”

“I don’t know. It was soft.”

“Don’t do that again, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Good. I’ll make us brunch.”

She still seemed very out of it, but I was fairly sure that would wear off with time. And that, I hoped, was the end of it.

Click here for the conclusion!

Short Stories

Green: Part 2 – April WordPrompt

If you missed Part 1, click here.

I couldn’t sleep the first night at my sister’s house, the first night of my exile. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was the responsible one. I was supposed to be successful, too. That’s how this works. If you work hard and take care to proof-read your homework, you get better grades than your sibling who goofs off all the time and doesn’t take anything seriously. This had held true my entire life up until this point.

Why, in the unforgiving world of adulthood of all places, had the situation suddenly been reversed?

It wasn’t as if my sister was particularly successful either, drifting from one side-hustle to the next while relying on thrift stores and dumpsters to make ends meet. I’ve heard her brag about how little she spends on food or heating in a month. As if living like a peasant is an accomplishment.

And yet there I was, a dependent slug living on her charity after years of schooling, and several more of gainful employment. It was only temporary, of course. Tomorrow I would polish my resume, and start making calls to contacts. Within a month or two, I would be employed again and back in a modern, tastefully-decorated apartment in an up-and-coming area of the city.

The most productive thing I could do right then was get a good night’s sleep. But I couldn’t.

Not uncommon, for the first night in an unfamiliar environment. I should cut myself some slack. Since I couldn’t sleep anyway, maybe I should start going through online job postings, just to get a sense of the market. I grabbed my laptop and crept downstairs. There wasn’t a desk in my sister’s spare bedroom, and using a laptop in bed is terrible for the posture. I plan on having a long, upwardly mobile career and I do not intend to look like a hunched old granny just as I hit my peak.

I settled myself at the kitchen table. Light from my laptop screen irradiated my face and ensured the rest of the room would appear cloaked in darkness despite soft moonlight seeping in from the windows. I pulled up a job search site and began to consider search terms, but my gaze kept drifting to the plant on the table.

Everything about it annoyed me. It had no purpose; it was just clutter. Don’t get me wrong, I like decorative objects if they evoke something useful. Serenity, for example, as most self-respecting orchids do. This thing looked like it might already be rotting, an effect enhanced by the broken mug it was planted in. It didn’t evoke anything in me except disgust, which seldom enhances productivity.

This aesthetic did fit the room, which was both the only remotely positive thing I can say about it, as well as a sad commentary on the state of the kitchen. It wasn’t filthy, just messy and cluttered. Full of herbs hung up to dry and drop dead leaves on everything, and jars of other herbs or peppers left to soak and have their essence extracted like medical specimens in jars.

I considered one jar of herbs and vinegar. It had a considerably higher ratio of vinegar to plant material than the other jars. I picked up the jar, unscrewed the lid, and tipped some of the excess vinegar into the broken mug housing the orchid. I put the jar back exactly where it had been, and wiped up a few drops that fell on the table or slid down the side of the jar.

There. Now the orchid would be put out of its misery, and the herb/vinegar mixture would be more like the others. By any objective standard I was helping.

I packed up my laptop and headed up to the spare bedroom to attempt sleep again. I might not have accomplished much in the way of job searching, but I had done something. What kind of namby-pamby life form could be done in by a salad dressing ingredient anyway? If the orchid did die, it just proved how pointless keeping it around had been in the first place.

The next morning I awoke to the sound of my alarm clock, as I had for as long as I could remember. I’d gotten very little sleep, and the raucous chirping was particularly painful. Technically I could have done without it, as the hour was meant to accommodate a long commute and I had nowhere to go. Still, I saw no reason to dwell on that, and sleeping in would only encourage the kind of laziness that would extend this hiccup in my life. My sister wasn’t awake yet, and wouldn’t be for an hour or two.

I went down into the kitchen to get coffee brewing, hoping that there would be something decent available. My sister had said something alarming about dandelion coffee earlier. I paused as my fuzzy mind detected something wrong on the kitchen table.

The orchid was now at least twice its original size, its wide, furred leaves spilling down onto the tabletop and hiding the mug entirely. I blinked several times, commanding my sleepy mind to make sense of this. It wouldn’t.

I dug a nearly-empty container of instant coffee out of the back of a cupboard, made myself a cup of something tolerable, and hurried upstairs, leaving the orchid to its nonsense.

Click here for Part Three