Bogleech.com's 2013 Horror Write-off:
" Mother Vine III "
Submitted by Prophet Storm
We really adapted. I'm kinda surprised, really, considering all the stories of how life used to be. All those buildings and cities that apparently we lived in. "Buying" and "Selling" as opposed to bartering. Driving cars--those metal heaps of scrap--up and down the road with no effort, covering vast distances in a few moments. Truthfully, many of us find the Old Ways hard to believe.
I was with my brother, Flatrock--named for the stone he was born on--looking for useable scrap on the outskirts of a city. It had once been known as Detroit. Now, we generally called it 'The Leafpile' and 'The Garden'. We had to be careful--breathing the spores too long could be just as fatal as getting ensnared in the Mothervine's roots. Each of us were armed with a bow and five ten fire-arrows--hollow glass heads filled with animal fat and oil we could strike a flint to before firing. We would have had more, but they're tedious and hard to make. They weren't all that effective, but a great deal better than what we had tried previously.
It's been two...or three? I think it's three hundred years since any humans actually lived in these cities. Aside from the Mandrakes. We are told there weren't always Mandrakes and Daughtersoil. Once it was just a single Mothervine, in a faraway land, but it was brought here by the Three Demons, whose names, I'm loathe to speak, were Powell, King and Oriley. The Three Demons, though human in form, brought the Mothervine here and rendered their bodies up to her. The fiends, sacrificing themselves merely to spread her reign.
"Long! I think I found something!"
Longfall was my name. I had been dropped when I was born.
"What is it, Flat?"
"Looks like some sort of gun! It fell out of a car."
I dashed over as fast as my legs could carry me, not heeding the bite of the gravel and jagged paving through my stockings. A gun--that was news. Flatrock's tunic had a few holes in it from crawling under the car along the rough raod, but in his hands lay a treasure: A length of steel pipe, bent, with a chamber at one end.
"It's not a gun, but we can easily make one out of it," I ruffled my little brother's hair. "It's called a Muffler. It was a part of the car."
"What did it do?"
"I think it was sort of like a rocket. You remember rockets?"
He nodded eagerly. When we had fuel to spare, we sometimes made rockets and fireworks for celebrations.
"I think the fuel was lit here," I said, indicating the chamber, "And expelled here, pushing the car. No wonder they were so fast, right?"
He grinned. "So we could make a gun out of this?"
"Yeah. I think so. Run on back to the village, I'll take one last look around. If we're lucky, I might be able to find one or two more things."
It was a mistake. As soon as he was five steps outside the city boundaries, I heard a shriek. I knew that sound--The Daughtersoil had awoken. The sun was low in the sky--it was possible we had missed our curfew. I could only pray that little Flatrock was fast enough to outrun the Daughtersoil. I took an arrow from my quiver and struck it to the flint on my bow in one smooth motion, nocking the arrow immediately. I wasn't a good enough aim to hit any one of the flowers that would attack him, but it would make a hole in the flock. As I turned the corner, I saw them--thousands of them--taking flight. The sickly green flowers had launched, and kept launching, themselves high into the air. Each flower bore a lethally sharp, dripping root it was prepared to drive into the intruder. As their momentum lessened and they seemed to hang in the air, I let loose the first arrow. Right into the center of the cloud of flowers it flew, scattering them--and rather than dive with mortal force, as they were wont to do, many drifted slowly and safely to the ground, stabbing brutally with their roots to re-plant themselves. Still, a number of them--probably upward of a dozen, still came down with the force of arrows and the deadly accuracy of a snake's strike. Flatrock had cleared the bulk of them, but one drove itself into his calf, immediately swelling into a bigger, pink blossom. I dove madly through the groggily reawakening green flowers, hearing them warble softly, and gripped the flower by its stem. I saw roots spreading beneath Flatrock's skin, I had to do it fast.
"This will hur--
I thought at first I'd hesitated too long, but the whole plant came out, tearing skin, muscle, and scraping bone. From my little brother issued a scream that caused the Daughtersoil to shudder, and he passed out. The flower that had tried to claim him wriggled helplessly on the ground. Its now impotent, soft root was no good for burrowing anymore, so it would die for want of nutrients. Served it right.
The wound was terrible. I could clearly see a length of his shinbone as long as my hand, and all around it the muscle and skin were red, swollen and aggravated by the toxins of the Daughtersoil, but I had nothing to amputate it with, so I tore my tunic at its bottom and tied the leg above the knee. I couldn't take chances. Not with my precious little brother. I hauled him up over my shoulder and began the slow march back to the village.
"You were quite brave, Longfall, to charge headlong through the Daughtersoil."
I was beginning to regret telling the truth in that part of the tale. "He's my brother, Songbird. Wouldn't you have done the same?"
"I haven't walked the Warrior's Way, like you have, Long."
I glared at my cousin with fire that belied my seventeen years. "When my father wasn't blessed with a son as he wanted, Songbird, he vowed to raise me the best that he could. When I was old enough to understand what the choice meant, he offered it to me--The Warrior's Way or the Woman's Way. I chose that of the Warrior because I felt, with the injury I had sustained, that I would be much more useful as a Warrior. I would never be a mother. When he had a son after me, he was overjoyed, and I vowed to help him from as early an age as possible along the Way of the Warrior. He's as much my son as my brother, Songbird. I helped raise him."
"And now he will suffer the Hunter's Rite far too soon because of a flower. A flower! That which once was beautiful and bright and sweet-smelling and now thirsts for our blood."
"I said I was sorry."
"I need to leave."
It was all the truth. My 'long fall' landed me in the fireplace the water was boiling over. The midwife saved me, and my burns weren't severe, but the metal pole the waterpot hung on had caught me in the stomach--as I grew, she and the village doctor kept an eye on my injury, and determined that my womb had forever been scarred. I would never bear children. I had never really wanted any, but it certainly made the choice all the clearer when it came: I was a woman warrior, born and bred. My brother's screams from the doctor's tent told me he had come around. I ducked in, eager to take my mind off of my own troubles.
It was a very clean amputation, and a very neat searing. Both had to have been extremely painful. We could never risk using plant matter in any activity--Even our fires were from ancient materials from before the Great Seeding. That meant that in order to sedate the sick, we had to find ancient medicines, and only the oldest of us remembered how to read any of the labels necessary to tell sedatives from poisons.
"How is he?" I asked the doctor--Flatrock had screamed, but his eyes were shut, and he was twitching fitfully. I suspected he was dreaming of the Daughtersoil.
"Not too bad," the doctor responded, a weathered old man with a pure-white right eye. "I think he'll be fine. With his imagination and gift of words, I suspect his new role will be something of a teller of tales."
I winced. Roles in our tribe were very important. A warrior was the greatest. A teller-of-tales would be respected, but not for a while. At least, not until he had reached his twilight years. "It's my fault, I shouldn't have sent him back alone."
"Now, Longfall, you couldn't have known they were lying in wait. They're awakening earlier nowadays." -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I ventured forth next with two male warriors--Greatspear and Swiftstep--with knives, bows, arrows, spears, torches, and a sizeable water-bag full of fuel each. We wore the bright blue, spiraling paint we did when we went to war, and not much else. Our goal was to frighten or kill that particular patch of Daughtersoil, and hopefully go further and drive away the other Vinespawned from the city edges nearest our village. We wanted no true war, not yet--we didn't have any really effective weaponry yet--but rather a little more territory to scavenge.
Each of us also had a dog tied to our waists by a leash. Should anything kill the dog, we could easily cut the leash before we came to danger. They were an early alarm system and a tester-of-grounds--should we accidentally disturb any Daughtersoils, the dogs would know before we did, and we'd be short a dog, but we'd at least have advance warning.
My dog, Four-and-Ten, (we gave our dogs numbers rather than names, as we went through a few every week--we didn't want to become attached) began howling at the red-clouded sky. My gaze fell on my compatriots. "Skimmers. Arrows at the ready." No one of us was superior, but in a pinch, anyone's orders would likely be followed, even a woman's.
We sparked our fire-arrows on our bows and readied them, aiming at the sky. In a matter of moments, the Skimmers became visible--awful, veiny creatures with membranous wings that glided and flew by spinning. Great, four-lipped mouths opened like obscene stars as they dove in for the kill, but a volley of arrows greeted them. Most of them were ash before they touched the ground. We moved on.
We found the Daughtersoil, and the flower that had rooted in Flatrock's leg was dead. Its withered blossom looked almost like a mourning face. I looked to my friends. "Ready?"
"Good. Fuel out."
We each hoisted the water-bag of fuel off the shoulder, the white, shiny material jiggling as the oils and fats swilled about in them.
"Who shall issue the challenge?"
Greatspear nodded at me. "Yours is the right to revenge, Longfall."
I smiled. "MOTHERVINE!" I bellowed. "Know that you have crossed the Shevrolay Clan! Know what you have done and tremble at our wrath! This day, a Daughtersoil will be sacrificed in vengence of a young warrior took from the battlefield too soon! We ask your withdrawal from Detroit City's southern border, that we might reclaim some of our ancestors' inheritance! The battle begins now, Mothervine!"
We hurled our water-bags into the center of the vast ring of green flowers. They warbled inquisitively--the flowers weren't intelligent as the Mandrakes. Greatspear then drew a second torch from his belt and lit it on his first. With a savage war-cry he went to heave it
and was thrown to the ground.
Swiftstep and I watched in horror as Greatspear wrestled with the rapidly rejuvinating flower that had cost Flatrock his leg. The Daughtersoil arose, each blossom bursting from the ground like a host of unholy angels, with the speed of gunfire. Swiftstep cried, "Help Spear!" and dove to the bags with his torch. The flowers--all of them--dove in for the kill, and with a single flick of his dying wrist, Swift ignited the bags. The resulting explosion threw blood, plant-phlegm, and petals everywhere. Swiftstep, Four-and-Ten and Three-and-Ten had been killed, but that Daughtersoil colony was dead. I looked to Greatspear, but I was too late--the blast had jostled me and upset my senses. The now Mothertaken Greatspear was feasting on Five-and-Ten, then set his sights upon me. Tackling me headlong, he crouched over me, one leg across both of mine, and a strong hand on my throat. His quickly paling flesh and reddening eyes told me that his will was unfortunately easy to break.
"Shall we see if your womb is barren indeed?" he asked, yellowish ichor dripping from his lips onto my chest, burning where they fell. I broke his hold with a swift raising of one leg, into his no doubt deadly weapon. As he howled, I rose and kicked him in the face, then dashed into the smoldering grass to retrieve Swift's spear, still ablaze, which I picked up and drove into Spear's chest. The heat seared him, and he shrieked in greater pain as the flames spread to his body. I ran.
But I didn't run back to the village.
We had set up a halfway camp, at which we had more weapons, more fuel, and the Muffler--out of which I'd made a deadly weapon. Filling a...I think they called it a base-ball...with fuel, and stuffing the chamber with fuel-drenched wool, I had the makings of a cannon. I bored a hole in the top of the chamber, into which I fed a long, oily rag. I could light the rag and in seconds it would fire the cannon. I was going to use it on the Mothervine.
As I dashed back into Detroit, I knew I was going to face opposition. The Mandrakes did indeed try to stop me. I cut them down without mercy.
I arrived at the edge of the grove. The Mandrakes were the Mothervine's last line of defense--the most ambulatory and dangerous of her servants, but also the easiest to get a shot at. The trees turned to look at me, once-human faces almost hidden as soulless, empty eye sockets stared at me. Their long, clawed arms reached out, but each one got a fire-arrow in the face or chest before they came within ten feet of me. After that, it was easy to cut a swath through them.
I faced the Mothervine at last. Surprisingly small for a tree that threatened mankind, she stood at thirty feet tall, with a toothed maw in her black trunk.
"Not likely." I shouldered the cannon and lit the fuse. When it went off, I was pleased with how much noise the Mothervine made as she started to burn from the inside out. I would have been more pleased had I stayed conscious.
The blast had knocked me off my feet, and I faded out. A sharp and enduring pain in my stomach told me something was very wrong, and as I looked behind me, surely enough, the Mandrakes had come back. But they stood their distance, apparently afraid of me. I walked through their midst, looking back to check as to the status of the Mothervine. Yeah--blackened and burning. She was dead. I began the long walk back to the village, assuming the Mandrakes simply didn't have anyone to lead them. My stomach rumbled. The pain had subsided, but it was acting up. I looked around for a place to relieve myself, and did so, feeling much better afterward. I continued walking. I thought about the Mothervine. How satisfied I was that she was dead. But plants are a part of the earth--an important part. Should I have killed her?
What was I thinking? Of course I should have. Not to would have been insane. I rubbed my stomach again. There was a strange bump a little below my navel. I figured it a pimple and paid it no thought. I returned to the village. I rubbed my slowly swelling stomach. In the river's surface, I saw my hips had widened, and my stomach had filled out a little. Hm. My skin had become a little paler. No big deal.
The first man who came my way was my father. I cut him down with my spear. He deserved it in some way. My mother came at me next with a skillet, so I killed her. She needed to learn her place.
Highleap and Blackbird came. They were easy to kill, and their blood was delicious. Blackbird's heart was good, but I hadn't gotten to it in time and it had stopped beating.
I had soon killed all the human traitors. The mother of the new race needed nourishment, I thought as I rubbed the softly squirming little one inside me. I'd be a mother after all.
One was left. Limping on a crutch, with a machete in hand, Flatrock rushed at me. "I loved you once, Longfall! Forgive me for what I must do!"
I broke his neck. His heart I got still-beating. Oh, was that good!
I stood in the center of the camp, my stomach gurgling, the little one hungry. I dug my toes into the ground and the branch broke the skin of my stomach. It was old skin, the new stuff would be much better. I smiled. "Ready for dinner, little one?" I stretched my arms to the sky as my roots went further down and out, draining the dying bodies of their life. I would be a mother after all. And my son, my precious little one, would know what it was to speak with forests, and to see the souls of the flowers.
Have you ever seen the souls of the flowers? Little red ones? Little green ones?
Have you ever seen the souls of little red flowers?