Bogleech.com's 2013 Horror Write-off:
" Nepenthes Insania "
Submitted by Hisham H.
Okay, so this a story some might call creepy, but I mostly think of it as bizarre (when I do choose to think about it; I prefer not to).
I'll need a pseudonym for this. How about Ted? I've always liked the name Ted for some strange reason. My background isn't really important; like so many others I went to college with high hopes for the future and came back home to disappointment with nothing but a fancy slip of paper and a whole lot of disillusion.
I wasn't afraid of work; I would have taken anything, janitor, sewage worker, whatever. But everyone was scrambling for those jobs. Jobs that my colleagues would have turned up their noses at were now highly desirable and fiercely competitive fields. There was simply not enough to go around, and anything a bus couldn't take me to was off-limits since I had no car.
But I didn't resent who managed to land jobs as cashiers or fast food employees. Many were by far worse off than me, crippled by looming debts and medical bills. Some, former classmates if not actual friends, were even homeless now. At least I was still welcome (albeit begrudgingly) at my parents' home.
The worst part was the disappointment in their eyes, somehow even more humiliating than my own. Still, I was pretty fortunate. Of course there were arguments about money and employment, but on the whole my parents were pretty understanding of the whole situation, and they even helped out in my job-hunting. They never made me feel like I was some sort of parasite, a freeloader (in fact, I think Mom was secretly glad that her "baby" had to stay at home for a little longer).
In the meantime, I did what I could to earn my keep and preserve at least some shred of my dignity. Did a few chores (the same chores I did as a kid, so not much help), ran errands, helped with the cooking. But although I was fortunate enough to have a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in, I still had my own debts; tuition fees and whatnot, and for that I needed cash. Actual money.
Now, my bedroom is on the second floor of our house, and my window just happens to overlook our neighbor's rather sizable backyard. I'll call him Professor B, or Prof B for short.
Now, Professor B was an actual retired professor of botany who lived all by himself. He had a thin, wiry build, was completely bald, and had a habit of leaving his spectacles perched on his forehead. Whether he was ever married, if he had children, or even his age, was a mystery. What we did know (courtesy of the man himself) was that he specialized in carnivorous plants, or in his words, "the hanging pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes, not the North American Sarracenia", which was apparently a favorite joke of his. I looked it up once, and the Nepenthes are the pitcher plants that dangle their traps from tendrils, while in the Sarracenia the traps sprout directly from the ground.
We were on reasonably good terms with Prof B. He was the quiet, unobtrusive sort, distant but polite. If you said hello he'd hello right back, and if you simply walked past with a nod he'd take no offense and nod in acknowledgement.
Now, despite being a botanist, Prof B paid very little attention to his backyard. No flowering shrubs, no trees, just a rather neglected lawn. I always thought it was that way because his specialty was Nepenthes, so his tastes were more tropical than temperate. But the thing that really stuck out like a sore thumb in his backyard was his storage shed.
I know the word "shed" conjures up images of the ramshackle outhouse-like shack built of wooden planks, but this thing was more like a one-storey house or garage, with proper walls and a door but no windows. It was an oddity in our neighborhood, and some questioned if it was even legal, although my father said as far as he knew it didn't violate any building codes or laws, so it was alright.
Nobody knew what was inside, or for what purpose it was built. It was simply just another curiosity, an interesting distraction. Even the most rebellious of delinquents couldn't be bothered to break in to see what was inside. Beside, the thing had no windows and the door was robust and locked with formidable-looking devices.
Now, when I came back to my old den, old Prof was away on a trip to Borneo, and my parents were house-sitting for him. At first they were worried that they had to take of an expensive and rare plant collection, but he reassured them that the only thing he wanted them to do was to feed his pet fish. That task was soon passed on to me.
Every day at around noon I'd go into the house, go into the living room, grab a can of fish food from a bookshelf, and walked up to the tank that housed a grand total of three fish: a red platy, a Congo tetra, and a pink kissing gourami longer than my hand. I'd feed them, pinch by pinch, until they were no longer interested, then I'd lock up and leave. His house was fairly boring; some furniture draped in sheets, and a lot of books and scientific journals piled high on tables and filling up shelves.
One morning Mom called up to me and said that Prof B had returned during the night. So I went over as soon as I could to hand him back his spare key.
He looked pretty much the same, perhaps a little thinner, a little older, and slightly sunburnt. We exchanged a few niceties, he politely invited me in, I politely declined. He asked about college and work, and I tried to tell him my current situation in a conversational manner, without sounding too bitter. I don't think I succeeded.
I began to babble, panic setting in as I desperately tried to maintain a smooth, casual tone to the conversation and avoid coming off as a desperate unemployed college graduate (even though it was all true). It was when I was in the midst of rattling off the various odd jobs I've been doing for my father that he cut me off with an offer of a job. He wanted to clean up his shed (THE Shed), and he wanted to pay me for my help.
The awkward but gracious offer of work was met with grateful (and awkward) acceptance. So the next day found me in front of our neighborhood's greatest (only) architectural wonder. Despite being a grown-ass man, I found myself excited, burning with a childlike curiosity to see what was inside.
I don't know why I was both disappointed and relieved to find that mysterious structure contained nothing but junk. A few tires, boxes of who knows what, some gardening tools, bags of potting soil, a lot of what appeared to be brown, shriveled sphagnum moss, and a vast collection of flowerpots and old, grimy fish tanks.
While we hauled the stuff out, Prof B explained that the previous owner was a tropical fish hobbyist. Although the winters here aren't that harsh, apparently, he decided that building a separate, well-insulated fishroom and regulating its temperature with precision was far more practical than plugging in a bunch of heaters or regulating the temperature of a whole, window-filled (the house itself had poor insulation to begin with, and the hobbyist's devotion to his passion certainly did not help with upkeep of the house). This explained the lack of windows (heat loss) and the massive door with its array of locks (he had kept the rarest, most valuable specimens in that room).
Prof B said that when bought the property, he realized that the fishroom's excellent insulation, and the fact it was fitted with some top notch wiring for the filters and stuff, meant it would serve excellently as a greenhouse, although he needed to fit it with some pricey lighting to compensate for the lack of sunlight. He used to house some very rare species of highland Nepenthes; unfortunately he fell on tough times and had to sell off his collection, then eventually shutdown the plant room for good.
But now, and at this point Prof B seemed strangely excited, he was retired, and he had just come into a large sum of money. Apparently, a few investments finally paid off, and the new income would allow him to live comfortably for the rest of his life, plus allow him to resume his hobby. At this point he probably realized it seemed kind of dickish to brag about your newfound riches in front of an unemployed man, so he immediately steered the conversation back to the clean-up at hand. Although I was a bit jealous, I couldn't begrudge a guy talking enthusiastically about his good fortune.
It took us the whole day to drag out everything and drive it all via pickup truck to a warehouse. I still don't know why he thought he might need old fish tanks or broken tools; I suspected a minor hoarding problem at this point.
We spent the rest of the week repainting the insides, fixing up the wiring, installing new lighting and putting in a lot of humidifiers. The shed was actually in pretty good shape despite being neglected for so long, and we didn't have to do much. Still, it was tiring work, and after we finished I was glad I would never see the inside of that room again.
You have exactly one guess to figure out what happens near the end of this story.
Anyway, that was that, and I went back to the old routine once again. At this point a college friend convinced me to record some podcasts for a shitty online webseries of his. I was ready to try anything, although I had my misgivings about what he considered "funny". I started spending a lot of time in my room on my laptop, trying to come up with content for his webseries. As I've mentioned, I've got an excellent view of Prof B's backyard.
Now I didn't mean to snoop or anything; the shed was right there in the open, and the only thing I could see was him coming and going to the shed. I didn't think much of it; it was as mundane as watching your neighbor mow his lawn. I noticed he always locked it behind him, but wasn't that perfectly rational behavior for someone about to cultivate rare plants?
What I found strange was that at some point he had installed a door bar for security on the inside of the door. I could understand locking the shed when you leave, but why bar the door while you're inside? The only thing I could think of was that he must have been planning to acquire an especially valuable plant, or else he feared particularly bold and reckless thieves.
Now, I didn't spend all my time in my room, so I can't say I had the shed under 24-hour surveillance, but despite his frequent trips to the shed I only ever saw him carry a plant into it once and only once; I heard him park his car, slam the front door then hurry into the shed carrying a small plastic tank with dirt in it. The tank was fogged over with condensation, but I could see a flash of green.
After that though, no more plants. I expected truckloads of plants to show up any day now, but as the weeks went by, Prof B still visited the shed daily, and every time he left he looked pretty happy. It seemed absolutely insane to have a setup like that for a single plant, so I thought maybe he was still testing it out, seeing if he could nurture a plant in there successfully before moving on to rarer breeds. Also, it was possible that he had brought plants to the shed when I wasn't looking; like I said, it's not like I staked out the shed or something.
Anyway, I soon forgot about the shed as my friend started up another webseries and actually wanted me to be in it. Cue week after week as he constantly changed the focus of the series from playing video games to satirizing the playing of video games and playing video games as satire (I'm not entirely sure if he actually knew what satire means). And as I sat there wracking my brain for manatee jokes or obscure video games, I would see Prof B visit the shed even more frequently, and several times I caught him carrying bigger and bigger pots into the shed and removing the smaller ones. Some of the later pots were ridiculous in size; that last one I saw him carry in was practically the size of a trash can. The reason why I remember that huge flowerpot so vividly is because that day, when he opened the shed to lug it inside, was the day I first smelled the fragrance.
I was sitting at my laptop, saw Prof B out of the corner of my eye dragging that huge flowerpot, idly wondering whether I should offer to help, when I first got a whiff. It was very faint, but definitely noticeable. Something sugary sweet and floral. Now the strangest thing was how perturbed I was at the smell. Mom was always spraying the house with various air fresheners, and none of them had ever effected me like this. The scent seemed to bore into my head and wrap my brain in fluff. I became extremely relaxed, more relaxed than I'd been in a long time, and in the midst of my stupor, I felt an urge. An urge to do something...but what? I was being compelled to do something, and I was pretty eager to oblige the compulsion to the best of my ability. I was sure if I just waited a bit, I'd get the answer...
And then, just as suddenly as it started, the feeling was gone, and so was the fragrance. I looked groggily out the window, and I could see Prof B walking away from the shed, having locked it behind him as usual.
Now, at first I thought I must have fallen asleep, and in that hazy line between waking and sleep, I must have had a vivid olfactory hallucination. I was somewhat disturbed by the strange feeling of being invaded, a sense of violation. As if that sweet scent had somehow inserted tentacles of cotton candy into the deepest recesses of my mind. And for the rest of the day, I still felt the lingering remnants of that alien compulsion, so separate and foreign from my own. I hadn't even known what it wanted.
Now at this point I had no reason to associate what had happened with the shed, so please don't think too poorly of me for what happened next.
A few nights later, I was up late killing time watching videos about squids, when I saw Prof B rushing to shed, wearing, or more correctly in the process of wearing, a fancy tuxedo. He seemed to be in a great hurry as he fumbled with the locks a bit, then stepped inside. A few minutes later he stepped out, hastily buttoning his cuffs while trying to wield a cellphone at the same time. From his worried look it seemed that he was running quite late. I heard the front door slam, then the sound of vehicle driving away. An hour or so later, I went to the backyard to wheel the garbage bin at the kitchen door to the curb, and I glanced over at our neighbor's yard.
The door to the shed was open.
I repeat: I am not a nosy person. I saw that the shed was open, and my first thought was to contact the Professor. But then I realized that by that time he was probably far away, and would be too much of a bother to come all the way back to lock a door. So I decided to lock it up for him, seeing as all the locks were still dangling on the door, then contact him to tell him it was OK. Perhaps he was already speeding back.
So I leapt over the fence none-too-gracefully, and walked towards the shed. And then I smelled it. Far stronger than before, sweet and sticky and fruity. And despite smelling it only once before, I instantly recognized it; it was the fragrance from my "olfactory hallucination". It hung around me heavy and thick, with hints of cinnamon and strawberries and vanilla. Again the strange calm stole over me, the soothing embrace of the fragrance familiar and comforting this time. A part of me realized that something was seriously wrong, but at this point thinking was becoming pretty hard.
And as I reached for the locks, a thought suddenly popped into my head; what if the keys were inside? I'd be locking the Prof out. Better check inside, just for a moment, to make sure that keys weren't inside.
And at this thought, seemingly implanted into my mind, I finally came to. It's difficult to describe how things were at this point, but I'll try. The best way to describe it was that my mind had split into two; one terrifyingly aware and alert, but powerless to do anything, and the other fogged over, lulled, drowsy, stupid, and strangely at peace.
Then something else was forced into my mind.
It wasn't a voice; no words echoed in my head. It was a gentle but firm suggestion, one that my alert mind recoiled from and my drugged mind was only far too happy to obey.
No words. Just an unexplainable compulsion, an urge.
Come closer to the perfume. Go to the scent. Go to the source.
So I stepped into that humid, murky gloom, serenely happy to comply, while at the same time screaming inside my own head.
My head reeled as I was hit by the full impact of the concentrated perfume, almost choking on the thick, cloying fragrance within the confines of the plantroom, the air so humid and thick with moisture that my clothes became uncomfortably clammy and damp.
In the dim innards of the shed, I saw them. Huge, distorted shapes bigger than my body; the enormous pitchers of a monstrous Nepenthes. Each one was shaped like an hourglass or an exotic gourd, with a round bulbous base, a very narrow waist or neck, then ballooning into a mouth that flared alarmingly like some fancy bathtub. And each was topped with a flexed-back lid that seemed too small to cover the mouth. Some were probably ten feet long; it was hard to tell because of their twisted shapes, as if they were made of wax and were flopping over in the noon sun. The pitchers were in garish, virbrant colors; almost fluorescent shades of buttery yellow and golden orange, splashed and streaked in rich shades of ruby and bright magenta. The largest were almost completely solid magenta, a shocking shade of brilliant fuchsia, with smaller patches of orange and yellow.
A long, woody vine, as thick as my wrist, emerged from a massive, spaghnum-choked and familiar pot. It snaked all over the floor like a misplaced fire hose. Here and there along its length it had small rosettes of glossy, bright green leaves, like the leaves of a ficus houseplant. Some of the leaves had their tips drawn-out into curly tendrils that ended in smaller, handsized versions of the bigger pitchers. But in each rosette, there was always at least one leaf that was bigger and much more robust than the others, and the stout stalk running through its midrib and extending out the tip was almost as thick as the main vine, but fleshier and less woody. These bigger leaf-vines coiled all over the place, sometimes wrapping around each other, and each fleshy tendril was connected to one of the colossal pitchers.
Dazed, I stumbled towards one of the largest pitchers, a fuschia-colored tuba with a yellow throat. Its lid was piled high with some sort of whitish goop, like soft sherbet. It exuded a different fragrance; a sweet, citrusy and tangy scent, that complimented the plant's overwhelming perfume and somehow augmented it. Even the alert part of me was slowing down. Becoming drowsy. Becoming compliant.
I was suddenly seized by hunger. I was famished, starving, thirsty. True, I hadnít eaten dinner yet, but now I felt as if I hadnít eaten in days.
And the goop smelled so good. So good.
I was so tired. Thinking was so difficult. I tried to think of a reason not to eat the goop; I was coming up blank. Maybe the fragrance wiped out all thoughts of resistance, I don't know.
I gave in. I clawed at the goop and shoved it into my mouth.
It was the most delicious thing I've ever tasted. Sweet and slightly acidic, rich and creamy yet light and refreshing. Like eating fresh strawberries with fudge. Or whipped and extra gooey peanut butter frosting.
And with that first mouthful all my reservations evaporated. I shoveled the mess into my mouth in a frenzy, clawing and scraping at the pitcher lid for every smudge and smear.
I choked a bit, brought up a little, swallowed it back down. It was even better the second time around. And through it all, I was absolutely disgusted and terrified at what was happening.
Finally, the frenzy slowed. I had eaten all the stuff on the lid, and I sank to my knees. My bloated stomach rumbled, snot dribbled from my nose, and white goop was smeared all over my face and arms.
I don't know long I kneeled there, my flushed face against the glossy lip of the pitcher. I wanted to sleep forever.
But then another command, another urge, rumbled through my brain.
Look, I was tired, I was dazed, my stomach hurt, and I had the feeling that resisting was only delaying the inevitable.
I'm going to make the next part brief. I don't want to dwell on it, and I'm sure you don't want to read too much about it.
I dropped my pants, sat on the pitcher rim, and took a massive, colon-emptying dump.
My only other choice was to empty my bowels into the confines of my pants or onto the floor. In my opinion, I took the only logical choice.
After the last of the spasms passed, and feeling empty (and much lighter), the fog in my mind slowly started to lift. I was growing more alert by the second, and my thought processes began to rev up.
What am I doing?
Why did I do what I did?
What is this thing?
Why did I just crap in said thing?
Why is Professor B staring at me?
I think it took me a full minute to realize that the Prof was standing at the door, still dressed in his tuxedo, his face pale and expressionless.
He broke the silence first.
"You do realize you are breaking and entering?"
His voice was calm and academical.
I could only nod.
He sighed, closed the door behind him, then continued: "Look, I understand theÖsituation far better than you think, so just hear me out. This entire shed was fitted for the sole purpose of nurturing this new species I've brought back from Borneo. Lately, I've been having trouble, er, with...keeping up with its demands. I'll forget all about this, if you would do this for me: come over every day and...er, feed it...just like this, and keep it a secret. I'll even pay you. How does that sound?"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
I couldn't believe what I heard next from my own mouth.
"Pay off my student debts. All of it. Then I'll work for you for a whole year without further pay."
We stared at each for what seemed like an eternity.
He walked towards a cupboard, opened it, and pulled out a roll of toilet paper.
He offered it to me. "You have yourself a deal."
What can I say? My parent have no idea why, but they're grateful to the old Prof for helping. I eat hearty meals, pop over everyday and do my business. Now that I've settled into this routine, the fragrance seemed to have decreased in intensity, although it still quite soothing in there. I guess it toned it down after getting what it wanted.
Prof is still writing the formal description of the new Nepenthes, and is arranging a collaboration with a chemist to analyze its perfume. I hear him talking a lot about "neurotransmitter-like substances" and "altering the conformation of receptor binding-sites" and a whole lot of stuff that just goes way over my head. He's even talking of hiring me on a permanent basis as his "personal assistant" after my year is up, and he asked me recently whether I'd like to go to Borneo.
As for me, well, I have my misgivings. I've haven't said anything to the Professor yet, but to tell the truth, that pitcher-plant worries me. I mean, it's an organism with the ability to hijack the mental processes of a human being with terrifying precision. What happens if it mutates? What happens if the chemical makeup of its mind-warping fragrance changes? Will it cause seizures, turn men into murderers or perhaps something worse?
And I can't shake the feeling that, back when we sealed our deal in the shed? When I demanded that he clear my debts?
I can't help but think...