's 2013 Horror Write-off:

" Mother Vine "

Submitted by Prophet Storm

Honestly, I don't know why they sent Sgt. King to me. My specialty isn't abnormal psychology, and the case was...certainly abnormal. When they brought him in, I thought he was dead. His pulse was almost gone, and he was catatonic. Only when we used his full name--Harold Sebastian King--did he respond.

"Where am I?" He asked, and his voice was dry and brittle.

"Water," I snapped at the orderlies who brought him in, and they scuttled out to find some water.

"Am I in a hospital?"

"Yes. You're in the St. Barnabas Mental Hospital. I'm Dr. O'Riley, and I'll be your primary therapist for the duration of your stay."

The detective had been supporting himself on his elbow, but collapsed again on the bed. "You're in for a long case, doc. Or a short one."


"If I'm longer for this world than a couple of days, it'll take years to weed this problem out."

"Well, fortunately," I smiled professionally, "Weeding problems out is what I do for a living. Now, I understand your last assignment was in rural Michigan."

"I was up in the Thumb," He replied, "Investigating the death of a botanist named Lawrence Powell. Dr. Powell was an old mentor of mine, something of a father figure."

He was more lucid than I'd thought. "According to the files I've read, you went into the greenhouse alone, without waiting for your team, then an hour later when they arrived, they found the greenhouse in flames, and you throwing cans of gas into the blaze. You still have some of the burns you sustained. Now why would a perfectly normal and healthy homicide detective do something like that? Was it out of respect, or anger?"

He licked his lips, and his eyes rolled around. "Fear." He eventually whispered.

"Fear of what? What happened?"

He took a deep, shuddering breath, and began.

"It was twenty years ago. I was sixteen, and my parents were killed in an auto accident. I went to live with Dr. Powell--he was my godfather. I learned all sorts of things from him, things that other men would go mad over."

"What sorts of things specifically?"

"Botany. I learned of how plants speak with one another, how we can speak to plants. I learned of plants that fed on moonlight rather than sunlight, and some that even fed exclusively on external supplies of sugar. I learned strange and wonderful things, and grew to love the doctor. He was more of a man than my father, and more supportive than my mother had ever been. I grew to hate them with a passion, and loved the doctor. I didn't want to leave, but when I was accepted onto the force, he kicked me out. But...he wrote me. He wrote me and I visited him. Once, on vacation, I joined him in the jungles of Africa, searching for an elusive plant said to feed purely on blood. I thought such a plant wouldn't exist, but we found it--a tiny, pure-white flower. We took it back to the greenhouse shortly before my vacation was up."

The orderlies came in with the water. He gulped a great amount down and I tried to stop him, but then he lurched forward and spewed the water back onto the floor.

"You've got to be careful, sergeant. You're still in a bad way physically. Sip the water slowly. Mop that up, would you please?" I asked the orderly. He nodded and went to retrieve a mop and bucket.

"Sorry, doc. I'm just so darned thirsty.

"I understand. Now you brought back the plant."

"And he kept writing. And phoning. And his thoughts grew more--more detached, more distant. Eventually, all his thoughts led back to the flower, which he had classified Ascarina Materna. How it metabolized the blood it fed on, what sorts of bloods better fed it. According to him, the other plants around it began to act strangely, and stopped reacting to water and plant food, and would only feed on blood as well. It was only a week after that when we recieved an automated phone message from the greenhouse, a tape. 'Greetings, sergeant. If you're hearing this, then I've shed my form and moved on. Don't mourn me gone, for I am not. I am now one with the Mother, a higher form. What I could not give the Mother before I have yielded to her now, and she has rewarded me richly. You may join me if you wish. I'm still in the Greenhouse, but my consciousness spreads far beyond. Oh, would that you could see the things I've seen, heard the things I've heard! I've spoken with forests, I've heard the rumblings of the ancient forest-fathers, I've seen the souls of the flowers! Oh, Sergeant, please come and join me.' Then there was sounded like a gunshot. I figured the old coot was in trouble, and headed on over."

"Naturally." The orderly had just left with the mop.

"I got there and without thinking of the homicide team, I just dashed in. The whole place was overgrown." His face twisted up in agony. "Oh, doc, it was horrible. The vines were everywhere--Everywhere! They had choked the hinges on the door, I had to break it down. And they were covered in these obscene little red flowers--flowers that looked like...they looked like eyes. They had to be eyes of some sort!" He started to arch his back, apparently seeing the eyes a bit too clearly.

"Relax. That's the past. Take as long as you like before you continue."

He passed out. I chalked it up to fear and came back the next day.

The next day, I arrived in the sergeant's cell, to find that he had managed to prick his finger on something and had been writing on his walls with the blood. After bandaging the finger, we resumed the story.

"The eyes--they followed me! And wherever I went, each plant, each flower, each tree, it bore red leaves, and more of those little flowers. I heard a voice, but it, it wasn't really there, it was...I don't know, it wasn't like anything I'd encountered in my life. It was more like a demon's billiard parlor than a greenhouse. But then I heard it."

"Heard what?"

The detective stared up at the light in the ceiling. "I...I heard the doctor's voice." His voice cracked with emotion. "I couldn't make out what he was saying, but I knew now that the Ascarina Materna had to be dangerous. I was overjoyed that he was alive, but I had to get him out of the greenhouse. I threw open the doors to the next room and I...I saw it!" He started retching, but nothing came up. According to the nurses, he'd vomited all morning until nothing more came up, and the dry heaves continued. They hadn't given him any sustenance for a day.

"Calm down. Calm down, detective. What did you see?"

"...The Mother."

It would be time-consuming, not to mention an excercise in futility, to transcribe his entire description. I'll paraphrase. What he thought he saw was a network of vines, covered in red flowers, bearing red leaves, uniting in a central trunk. Half-enveloped in the trunk was Doctor Lawrence Powell. His arms outstretched, his fingers had become branches, and his legs disappeared into the tree's roots. His head had split open, like the petals of a flower, and his eyes hung useless from their optic nerves. A long, serpentine tongue hung out of the center of the skull-flower like a pistil. The doctor and the tree his corpse was in trembled with his voice, which was now strangely inhuman. "I am one with the Mother. Join us, Harold. Join us."

Apparently, that was when he ran out and started the fire. The doctor had begged him to stop and to join the Mother as well, and he says it was that constant begging that drove him to psychosis. But near the end of his story, he saw my disbelief in his account. He challenged me to come with him to Africa, to see where this flower grows. Humoring him, I told him I would. But then, at the height of a rabid accusation of falsehood, he starting hacking and coughing, and coughed up a tiny red flower, no wider across than my thumb--a flower that eerily resembled an eye.

"I'll go with you to Africa," I said. "I need to see this."