by Amara George Parker
Here’s a thing they don’t tell you about the apocalypse: after a coupla weeks you’ll start masturbating over weird shit.
It won’t even be the usual kind of weird shit. Not even the illegal kind of weird shit. This will be the kind of weird shit you’ll have previously not considered to hold even a peppercorn of allure… but that was back before the world ended. In the here and now though – a fortnight into this broken fucking earth – my particular type of weird shit is, well, plants. Just one look at ‘em, and I’m ready to drop my machete along with my guard duty and views on interspecies sex. But I don’t, or, to be more specific, I haven’t. Yet.
The Science Division – you can be sure they’ve graced themselves with a fancy-ass moniker like ‘Bio Engineering Research Cooperative’ or some shit, but us macheteheads call ‘em The Science Division because hey, it’s science, right? – noticed a few days back that there’s something different about these particular plants.
“They’re not from around here. Earth.” Is what the Doc’d actually said, as she’d puffed away on one of her vicious-looking cigarillos.
“Blunt as a truck, as usual, Rubenstein,” is what I’d said, and she’d eyed me with the same disdainful look she’d give the lab frogs before we’d started serving them up in the mess tent.
“Shame the postal service is down or I could’ve ordered some fucks to give. I’m blunt, Carrie, because you machete-wielding gobshites aren’t worth wasting a more elaborate explanation on.”
I’d tipped my machete in salute. “Gotcha, Doc… Alien plants.” I’d allowed myself an eyeroll at this point and you can’t tell me it wasn’t well-deserved. I mean, alien plants. What the fuck. “Any more to give me than that? I mean… Do we burn the lot down? Even a bladehead like me can see that they’ve spread a little rampantly – even in the handful of days since we’ve been here.” I’d gestured to the landscape around – the curling green and clinging vines of blue that had smothered the railroad tracks leading to the facility and drowned the crops in our fields that only a fortnight ago had been well-tended. Meticulous. I’d sighed. “Do we worry?”
Dr Rubenstein had shifted, crumpled a little inside her slacks and shrunk herself a little further down in her thin grey sweater. Poor pet – it must’ve been hard researching anything when you had no power, no supplies and no fucks to give.
“That’s all I have for you, Carrie. Tell you team to keep an eye out – make a point of watching for anything unusual. I need to assess the plants from a distance before I can take samples for analysis. and Carrie,” her shoulders had slumped. “Play it down to the others. We can’t afford to have panic amongst the survivors.”
And that’s how I got stuck on plant-watching duty. Goddamn gorgeous twisting tendrils of sapphire blue and raven-feather green, supple stems like the arch of a woman’s back mid-orgasm… And at night, when the land is silent but for the flitting beat of bat wing and the stifled tread of moonlit prey, they dance. For me, I like to think – I never ask the others if they’ve seen what I have. It’s hypnotic, what they do… with their supple limbs, their swaying tendrils, their fragile beauty. I don’t know what I’m afraid of, what consequence I think there’ll be if I speak to the others about the plants dancing. Jealousy, perhaps? Can’t have jealousy at the end of the world. Not with so few of us left and with no way out except together. Not in my ranks. So I keep my secret, and, like the flowers of my new subjects under an ink-black night sky, my crush blooms.
When the sun sets, dense petals of the most luscious silk unfurl, lighting the night with an ethereal glow. I feel my heart quicken at the sight of them. They seem so innocent, so new. Fuck – have you ever seen dewed silk struck by moonrise? That’s when the real magic comes. Their song trembles upward from root to bone, a doleful thrumming that you feel rather than hear at first – sounds which make no sense until they penetrate the very tissue of your heart. Yearning leaves spin and writhe, their fronds alive with the same throbbing glow as emanates from the flowers. I can’t help think of my ex then: Brazilian, hips curved like a fertility goddess, bold and raw and inevitable. (And now, along with the rest of the world, most probably dead.) She used to dance like she could hex the world with her flesh, bewitching flicks of hips and wrists and eyes and… these plants move like her. So I’m putty. I can’t look away – and not just because it’s my job to guard them.
Doc says she’s ready to take some samples now, and I feel like we’re all about ready for some fucking answers. Two weeks ago, or, it might be more than that now, life just… stopped. The world had been carrying on with its steady sprawl of concrete and investments and high-rises and motorways and football matches and discount fried chicken, until suddenly it wasn’t. Media cut out mid-syllable like a man punched in the throat and the only tech that worked – works – would fit right in with the Amish. And people. People. Where the fuck are the people? I mean, there’s a handful of us here, but beyond our fields and the craggy eyes of the mountains, there doesn’t seem to be any life – of the human variety, at least. These plants sure as hell spread everywhere, and fast. They hit our facility’s outer limits not long after the world went radio silent, and have been closing in ever since.
Most of us have been out here long enough, either working in the fields or in the subterranean labs carved out of the mountain side, for long enough to know the terrain, so we were quick to spot the sudden green takeover. But I wonder how others, whoever hadn’t been killed in the initial whatever-the-fuck, had fared. If they’d seen the plants coming and fled, or if they’d carried on oblivious until the plants covered their skin like ivy over a ruin. I suppose that’s what humanity is now – a ruin. A relic. It’s almost indescribable, what it looked like, watching all that green just devour the terrain around us. It was like a slow-moving swarm of locusts, or an emerald ice floe. Fucking lava seeping its hungry way across the Earth, and consuming anything in its path. Except us. Why had it stopped at us?
Doc wants us to wear protective gear from now on – all of us, no exceptions. I argued that the clumpy plastic suits would hinder my ability to use my weapon to defend the facility and its remaining staff, and she shot back with, “Findings have shown a large amount of human matter in the plant’s digestive tract.”
So I donned the suit and avoided watch for a night.
One of my macheteheads is missing. Actually, it’s the bitch I’d left on guard duty last night while I was trying not to wank my way into an early grave. My belly’s churning like a cement mixer full of eels when Doc walks into the glorified tin shed I’ve claimed as a watchman’s hut. She eyes me and kicks out the chair from under the desk. It’s then I notice the silver flask that hangs from her fingertips and, travelling upward, the slight slackness to her jaw around a lit cigarillo, and her clouded eyes. The clouds turn glowering when I pluck the flask from her fingertips and take a swig. For a second, I think she’s going to swipe at me but then she laughs, this half-grunted miserable gurgle, and shakes her head.
“You into plants, Carrie?” she asks, and I feel irrational panic colour my cheeks and close my throat. She couldn’t possibly know… right?
“I… grow my own veg… and… I guess I chose this job because of where it is, what it is… surrounded by nature. Why?”
“Oh, bullcrap. You chose this job because you lost half your men out in some fucking desert and you didn’t want to be around anything that reminded you of that. Woman of my years can see a woman of your skill doesn’t just wind up guarding a research facility like this one because she likes nature.”
Doc’s staring at the floor now and her face has taken on this expression of a woman who doesn’t believe where she is or what’s coming out of her mouth.
“They want something from us,” she says. The words seemed to temporarily break the spell she’s found herself under because then she looks at me. For once, she doesn’t look at me as though I’m just a machetehead or like she’s above me. There’s fear in her eyes, and desperation. “It’s… too much of a coincidence –” she says, her voice shaking with more than too much booze. “These plants arriving at the same time as everything going down. I…” Those eyes again. Fuck, she looks haunted. “I think they’re capable of generating a powerful EMP. Enough to take out most of our infrastructure.”
“Aren’t plants a little… passive to invade a planet?”
But she couldn’t hear me. “The people…” she says.
“Digestive tract,” I say. I feel my stomach flip and flood with ice. I take a swig and hand the flask silently back to Doc.
“We… the ones who are left… we’re either eco-scientists or we’re eco-warriors or… we just love plants, or something. The ones who were here for the money or prestige and didn’t treat nature with respect… they’re dead. They’ve left us for a reason. They’re not eating us because they want something from us.
“They… want something from us,” she says again.
And I know.
The sun’s setting. A familiar thrum murmurs through the earth and vibrates itself in the space between the sinews of my heart, and then descends… Lower.
Around us, the soft pulsing glow of petal and swaying tendril deepens and dims, deepens and dims. Sultry. Seeking. Seductive.
I step outside, and remove my protective suit. I know somewhere in my mind that Doc has followed me, is saying something.
“Hybrids,” I mutter without turning around.
Fronds unfurl and began to twist and dance and glisten. Beads of deep-plum sap drip from the arched stem of blue-green, drawn slowly along leaf edge to pool on the dark earth below. Enriching. Moistening. In the twilight I see what I had not seen before: hungry little mouths that had sated their hunger with flesh and now seek a different kind of satisfaction – a new kind of life, a new world. I lay my machete down in the dewed grass and walk into the grove.
“This isn’t an invasion, Doc. It’s a cross-pollination.”
“What are you doing? What if-”
But Doc’s words are already a faded hum under the undulating song of the night-blooming flowers. I slip from the coarse land of separated flesh and matter and feel myself absorbed into a whole new world, one where all is connected to all through the unending web of root and tendril, and we reach deep into the quiet earth, stretch joyously into the fresh night sky, and toward the stars.
And so, the future begins.
Amara George Parker is a London-based writer, editor and hedgewitch. Their short stories, ‘Rafterland’ and ‘Supernova’ appear in Mslexia and Mooky Chick respectively, and they have forthcoming fiction in Clover & White and Thirty West Publishing House’s Elevator Stories. Their poetry has been published in literary magazines including Sufi Journal, Aeva, Daily Drunk, Sage Cigarettes, Prismatica and Earth Pathways, and they are a regular content contributor to A Writer in Morocco, where they write about the creative process. Their essay, ‘Wheelchairs and Wyverns’ is due to be published by Human/Kind Press in their upcoming anthology.
To purchase their short fiction, read more of their poetry, and for editorial services, smudge sticks, tarot reading and much more, head over to their website: amaragparker.wixsite.com/agparker Follow them on Instagram @a_g_parker and Twitter @amara_gparker