's 2019 Horror Write-off:

Invasive Rembrandts

Submitted by Hisham Hasan


A name that for some, conjures images of sunny beaches, lush emerald-green hills, and luxury resorts.

For others, a hotspot of biodiversity, one of the natural marvels of the world.

For me, it was a place I dare not return to.

I work as a private investigator. My specialty is digging up info, records and such on individuals of interest. Some degree of surveillance is occasionally required, but I always try to avoid prying too deep if the case doesn't require it.

In fact, I eschew jobs that require me to track down specific individuals. Never took them and never will. No matter what sort of sob-story I hear, even if it's a mother looking for her long-lost daughter, never mind suspicious spouses and jealous lovers. There are just way too many stalkers and abusers around, and even with background checks you can never be completely sure. So, I just stay out of all that.

Anyway, I also don't take cases where the intent is simply damaging reputations and collecting dirt on people; I don't relish ruining lives. Most of my jobs are just about making sure potential business partners or contractors are legit and have nothing shady going on.

I try to avoid cases that involve criminal activity. Not that I approve of crime of course, but it's risky business, and the danger comes from both cops and criminals alike.

Now one day, during a slow day I get a call from my Uncle Gerard, my mother's cousin twice removed. He said he wanted to discuss business.

I'm always wary of discussing business with relatives; the lines between professional and personal relationships blur all too easily, not to mention the dreaded “familial discount.” I was even more suspicious because Uncle Gerard never really kept in touch; I remembered him only vaguely from the occasional family gathering.

Still, I was in no position to snub what could be a potential job, and so I decided to humor him, and paid him a visit.

I met Gerard at his home. After customary greetings he got straight to the point. He had contacted me because he hoped I'd be discreet, and because it was somewhat personal. He wanted me to check out some real estate he owned.

This didn't seem so bad (so far), so I agreed to hear him out.

The property was located on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, in a small valley in the the district of Koʻolauloa, maybe half a dozen or so miles from Kualoa Ranch. Twenty acres of beautiful scenery pretty out in the middle of nowhere, ideal for a getaway. Most of it was maintained at a sort of park or botanic garden, and at its center was its key architectural feature, the main house.

The house was originally meant to be a private museum, but was later sold to some guy who simply converted the museum into a huge mansion.

Anyhow, it changed hands several times until eventually it ended up as the joint property of Uncle Gerard and three other men, who had big plans for it. Because the mansion started off as a museum, it had multiple wings and long hallways packed with rooms, which gave them the idea of converting it into a hotel or inn, and transforming the entire property into a luxury resort.

They set to work, refurbishing and installing extra bathrooms and expanding the kitchen, but then cash became tight and they had to put their project on hold.

However, they still got use out of it; between the four of them they shared the mansion as a vacation house, perfect for weekend getaways and such. The mansion was perfectly livable at that the point, the amenities quite serviceable. In fact, a couple of the owners had taken up semi-permanent residence at the place, staying for months at a time. The others were fine with this arrangement; it ensured that the mansion was maintained in good condition.

But as time went on, one of the owners passed away, and another needed the cash so he sold his share to my uncle. Eventually my uncle finally convinced the last guy to sell him his share so he could have full control over the estate.

He decided to restart the resort project, but on a much larger, more ambitious scale, and this time he managed to get quite a few investors on board.

This is the point where his story had quite a twist. He had been planning a tour of the mansion for some of the investors, but he had to abandon those plans when he came across some surprising news; that one of his former partners had been arrested under the suspicion of murder.

Shock soon turned to horror when he remembered said partner had spent months at a time at the mansion. Naturally anyone would assume the worst.

This is where I came into play. He had heard horror stories of corpses hidden beneath beds or mattresses or underneath floorboards, or even in walls, and so he wanted me to make sure that his murderous colleague didn't hide any nasty surprises in the mansion before he resumed work on the project and invited the investors over.

Naturally, the first thing I suggested was for him to go to the police, but he (understandably) balked at the idea. At any rate, there was no indication that any sort crime or evidence was hidden in the mansion, so he wasn’t under any obligation to go to the police, and he abhorred the idea of forensics tearing up the place, all on some unsubstantiated whims.

I then pointed out that the property spanned a good twenty acres; if his ex-partner was indeed some sort of serial killer then he could have buried victims anywhere, and there was no way I could cover all that ground. But he quickly dismissed my concerns, saying that he didn't expect me to go over the entire place. He wanted to restrict my search to the mansion itself and its immediate vicinity. He wasn't planning on any major excavations on the rest of the property. His only concern was the house.

Now, at that point I still had my misgivings. Apparently, he had the wrong impression of what I really did for living; I wasn't the hard-boiled crime detective type. Besides, I simply didn't have the equipment nor the expertise to deal with this sort of thing.

But then he said the magic words: "Naturally, I'll reimburse you for any equipment you need to buy or any consultants you need to hire. Spare no expense." Now, business had been pretty bad lately. I had been targeted by a couple of lawsuits, and even though they got dismissed, the whole affair still dealt quite a blow to my finances, my reputation and my business. I had clients canceling left and right.

Business was so bad, in fact, that I was seriously starting to consider taking jobs I normally reject.

So when I heard those tantalizing words, I'm afraid I found it very easy to push those misgivings to the back of my mind.

Now, I wasn't about to rip off my uncle. I fully intended to do a thorough job; I knew a couple of guys, colleagues in the business who were more experienced in this line of business, and I was pretty sure that together we could pull it off. However, I will admit I fully intended to exploit this financial windfall as much as possible, and even as we discussed business, in my mind's eye I was already seeing how I would fudge the numbers, just a bit. Bring in some flashy stuff for good theatrics, like sniffer dogs, UV lights, maybe a bit of fancy forensics.

We settled on a tentative plan. I would go visit the property this weekend, scope out the place, get my bearings. Uncle Gerard had back surgery scheduled for Monday and so had to spend the weekend at the hospital. He couldn't afford to postpone it, and promised to join me as soon as the doctors allowed. In the meantime, I was free to look around, familiarize myself with the location, and then enjoy myself for a few days if I wanted.

This was becoming the best job I had ever taken by far; free room and board on a tropical island with additional days off full of leisure, beaches and pineapples filled with rum cocktails and fitted with tiny umbrellas.

He gave me the keys, a map of the property, detailed plans of the mansion, and a small retainer. And so a couple of days later I landed in Honolulu in high spirits and rented a car. Things were starting to look up.

A good dozen or so miles from Honolulu on the highway, I turned onto the side road that led to Gerard's resort, and had my first good look at the mansion.

It really did look like a museum from the outside; absolutely gargantuan, drab and formal looking, and severely rectangular. It even had columns in the front, and massive stairs leading to an impressive set of double doors. It looked a bit out place among the tropical shrubs and trees.

In terms of condition, the place was in very good repair. The key turned smoothly in the lock and the doors, heavy reinforced oak, swung open noiselessly. Although the furniture was all covered in sheets and the place was a bit dusty, the place was spotless, no stains or anything.

Gerard told me that even if nobody was at the house, there was a cleaning company that came every other week to clean the place, and once a month he'd go around making sure everything was clean and operational.

I checked out the first, or ground, floor, room by room. These rooms were already fully furnished, the closets well supplied with clean linen and blankets, the bathrooms clean and functional and fully stocked with an adequate supply of toiletries. These were the rooms the former co-owners and Gerard would occupy while staying over. I chose one of these as my base of operations.

There was also a large kitchen, big enough to prepare food for an army, and four jumbo-sized washing machines in the basement. The second and third floors were still incomplete and unfurnished.

The mansion had an absolute maze of hallways and side corridors, showing its origins as a museum, and two main atriums, one at each end, covered by a skylight. Basically, the overall layout was each atrium was connected to the front lobby by two main passageways. Each passageway was lined by rooms and had side corridors connecting them. This layout was repeated on each floor.

The main area of each atrium was mostly occupied by a massive, indoor glasshouse stretching all the way up to the roof, and each housed a whole, absolutely massive tree.

Nothing seemed amiss. In fact, only one thing stood out. It was on first floor, in a little side corridor that connected the two main hallways in the right wing. There was an enclave with a small shelf, and about ten feet away against the wall was a toppled vase, about two feet high and completely unscathed thanks to the thick carpeting.

In a house that was otherwise neat and orderly, that vase on the floor was very odd. Wasn't there a cleaning crew that came here? Why leave it like that? Or was accidentally dropped or knocked over then missed? The last owner had moved out three months ago, and my uncle hadn't been here since then.

I picked up the vase. It was just an ordinary vase; white, engraved with a pattern of lilies and leaves. I decided the incident wasn’t a big a deal, so I placed the vase in the small enclave and went on with my business.

This was basically the overall layout of the ground floor:

I had arrived quite late in the day, so by the time I had completed my survey of the premises, it was already dark. I had loaded up on groceries in the city, so I had a sodium-loaded dinner and went to bed.

Next morning, I took the liberty of sleeping in, and after breakfast I decided to at least get something constructive done before taking the rest of the day off. I walked around, exploring all the rooms and floors and checking to see if the layout matched the plans, making sure there were no secret rooms or passageways.

I checked out the glasshouses in the atriums as well. They weren't completely walled off; each had a glass door in the side that allowed access, and a path running through.

The contents of each glasshouse were practically identical; each one housed a single, gigantic, unkempt and rather scraggly tree, the branches long and lanky. I didn't know what kind; just a single tall tree with a wide, open canopy, and absolutely smothered with woody vines and lianas.

I could tell that the trees themselves were completely bare, the patchy foliage belonging mostly to the cloak of vines embracing them. I did notice that in each tree there was an oval or spherical mass of denser foliage and tangled vines, almost like the domed nest of a weaverbird, or the drey of a squirrel, except much larger. One tree had this structure near the center, next to its trunk, while the other had it situated closer to the top, out on a stout branch.

Were these structures the nests of some type of creature? Maybe the glasshouses also housed some sort of animal, like a family of sugar gliders or tamarins, or some other exotic mammal. I watched carefully, but I didn't notice any movement. In the end I concluded that if the glasshouses ever housed any animals, they were vacant now. Besides, I felt that my uncle would have mentioned any animals, and the glasshouses were too clean, too pristine, even with the regular visits from the cleaners.

I moved on, continuing my leisurely sweep of the premises. Already I was envisioning how I was going to spend the rest of my evening, the clubs I would go visit that night, ruminating on what to have for dinner, when I came across something that stopped me dead in my tracks.

It's funny how sometimes simple little things can simply upend your whole worldview, shift your entire perspective.

For me, it was that vase in the little side corridor.

It was on the floor again, but this time against the other wall. Only a few feet away this time.


I fought the urge to panic. I had to go over this methodically.

I walked up to the vase and picked it up. Once again no damage.

I went over to the enclave and placed the vase on the shelf again.

The shelf wasn't tilted or uneven, the vase rested securely on it.

I looked around. No air vents nearby, and even then there was no way anything short of a gale could have knocked off this hefty vase. Then who?

The cleaning company had a key, they definitely had access. Certainly it wouldn't be the first time some cleaning service violated the trust of their clients, but I had just checked most of the mansion, and as far as I knew nothing had been taken, and everything was exactly as it was.

Gerard had told me didn't keep anything valuable or important in his office, but maybe one of the other owners hid something?

Wait. The other owners.

True, the murder suspect was under arrest, but he could have had one or more accomplices. He could have easily provided them with duplicate keys.

There was the third guy as well, the last one to sell his share to Gerard and then moved out three months ago. He could still have a spare key.

I suddenly felt very timid. Here I was, alone in a huge mansion, and some unknown intruder had entered the house, while I slept.

But why leave the vase like that? It was the only indication of an intrusion, the only sign that anything was amiss. It seemed extremely foolish to leave something incriminating like that. Had they taken the time to put it back, their visit would have gone completely undetected.

Maybe they panicked? After they knocked it over, maybe they lost their nerve and so left in a hurry?


What if they hadn’t left?

What if they were still in here? With me.

My chest tightened sickeningly.

I was way in over my head. I prepared to call the police, when I hesitated.

What was I going to say? "Hello, I believe someone broke into my house because of a toppled vase, please come and check for intruders?"

I thought it over.

I had just gone all over the entire mansion, floor by floor, room by room, all alone, completely defenseless and with my guard down. I had seen nothing and encountered no one, and if anybody had wanted to jump me, they would have had ample opportunity to do so by now.

It was more likely that intruder was now long gone, and I was in no immediate danger.

A third consideration; the entire point of this job was to avoid police involvement. True, Gerard had stressed that if at any point I felt I was in danger I was free to inform the authorities, but calling the police at this point? Barely a day after I arrived?

Mission failed.

I would lose my commission. My entire plan would fall apart. No big check for consultations or fancy equipment, just the basic fee. I'd barely break even.

In the end, I put away my phone, and decided to look for more evidence of an intruder before doing anything drastic.

I retraced my steps, spent the rest of the day checking the entire mansion from top to bottom.

Nothing was out of place. I checked all the desks in the offices, made sure their drawers were still locked and undamaged.

Every window in the place was equipped with decorative but sturdy iron bars. Dangerous in a fire, but it meant no one could come through a window.

Every other exit door in the place was locked, and padlocked from the inside for good measure.

I next considered the glasshouses. They reached all the way up to the skylight, and the trees would have allowed for a safe descent. But the doors to the glasshouses were securely locked and undamaged, and showed no signs of tampering. Besides, the skylight had no openable panels, and the glass was wholly intact and unmarred. There was no other access through the roof.

I finally satisfied myself that whoever had entered had long since gone, and that the only possible point of entry was the main door.

I sat down, considering my next course of action.

First, I had to know more about his former partners. Second, I had to inquire if there were any creatures housed in the mansion. I still couldn't rule out the possibility of an errant and particularly elusive animal.

I ruminated over that last thought. What animal could it be? I considered the possibilities. Other than some sort of pet, it might have been a rat; they get huge, and can slip in and hide anywhere. Or maybe even a cat; might not even be a pet, just some stray that wandered in when the doors were open and was stuck here for the past few weeks.

I texted my uncle. I decided not to reveal too much info, just asked about his health (he was fine and in good spirits), requested some info on his former partners (he gave me their names, but didn't know their current addresses), or whether any of them ever kept animals in the glasshouses or the mansion (negative; they never kept any pets, nor was he aware if any were ever brought to the mansion). He was a bit bewildered by that last question.

Researching people was something more up my alley; unfortunately this bunch apparently kept quite the low profile, or at least managed to keep most of it from appearing online. There wasn't much I could find; the most notable thing was an obituary for the guy that died and multiple reports of the murder suspect being arrested, each one a lazy copy-paste job of the next. The third guy might as well have not existed.

I set the laptop aside in disgust. This was getting me nowhere.

I had to calm down. Relax. Rationalize.

As I mulled it over, I realized the situation was still salvageable. I still had things under control.

If the intruder was human, there was only one point of entry: the front doors. The windows were barred, and every other door padlocked from the inside. No access was possible via the skylights. I considered immediately changing the locks; there was bound to be a 24-hour emergency locksmith in Honolulu. But then I remembered locksmiths always require proof of residence before working on anything, and I wasn't sure I wanted to involve my uncle at this point, at least not yet.

I considered other options. I reexamined the doors; regular double cylinder lock. Simply leaving the key inserted and turned slightly would prevent anybody from inserting a key and unlocking it from the outside. True, it might not completely deter lock-picking or dismantling, but I figured anyone with a spare key wouldn't be packing a set of lock-picking tools.

Anyway, it had to do for now. My options were limited; for the time being I couldn't afford to leave the premises, not while the intruder was still out there.

Were they even now watching the house, waiting for me to leave?

Best case scenario, this wasn't some seasoned burglar or cold-blooded murderer, just a trespasser with a spare key. Anyone timid enough to be shaken by a toppled vase was (hopefully) going to lose their nerve when they discover that their key doesn't work. With any luck, it might even scare them away for good. Someone like that was unlikely to resort to drastic measures, like cutting a hole in the skylight, or smashing through the front doors with a truck.

Still, if pushed far enough, like if there was really evidence of a murder or some other crime hidden in the mansion, even the meekest person might resort to desperate measures. After all, they were bold enough, or rather desperate enough, to enter while I slept.

I shuddered. Someone more ruthless might have simply offed me in my sleep.

I finally came up with a plan.

First, I inserted the key in the lock and turned it so it couldn't be forced out from the other side. I couldn't find rope, so I twisted a spare towel and knotted it around both handles, and tightened two of my spare belts around them for good measure.

I checked the entire mansion top to bottom. The entire place was secure.

Next, keeping the animal theory in mind, I left a slice of smoked turkey in each corridor on every floor. In the corridor with the vase, I placed the meat right in front of the enclave. If any animal was loose in the building, I would soon know in the morning.

After that, I locked myself in my bedroom, and barricaded the door with the wardrobe, the desk and the dresser.

The idea was that if this interloper was desperate and determined enough to break in despite my precautionary measures, then they were likely highly dangerous and I absolutely did not want a confrontation. They were quite welcome to whatever they were after, and I would deal with Gerard and the aftermath later. Acceptable losses; I wasn't going to risk my neck.

Since I was unharmed the previous night, it was unlikely they would go out of their way to attack me, so maybe barricading the door was a bit much, but I wasn't taking any chances.

I had feared that I wouldn't able to fall asleep that night, but all my precautions reassured me, and constant anxiety had drained, so I soon fell into a deep sleep.

I woke up pretty late. After half an hour of fidgeting restlessly in my room, I mustered up my courage and prepared to face the worst.

I shoved the furniture aside and listened carefully at the door. Silence.

I carefully opened the door and exited the room. Nothing was amiss.

I crept along the hallway, pausing every now and then listen.

My heart was racing.

Finally, I reached the entrance to the main lobby. I took a deep breath, then leaned out for a look.

The towel remained tightly knotted around the handles, my belts still wrapped around them.

Relief. Glorious relief.

I walked briskly to the corridor with the vase.

Once again the vase was on the floor, in yet a different position.

The nearby slice of turkey was gone.



I was in high spirits that day.

My adversary was a mere animal. An annoyance, to be sure, but less of a threat than a human.

I decided to go treat myself. I drove into the city, did a little sightseeing. Decided to treat myself, so I ate at a restaurant (I had eaten nothing but turkey sandwiches ever since I touched down in Hawaii), splurged a bit, had the lobster tail and steak. Went shopping for a while. Bought a keyhole blocker, just in case.

Even called up my uncle and gave a heavily redacted version of events, got commended for my hard work.

I suppose I overdid the tourist thing a bit. By the time I decided to get back, it was already dark.

On the drive back, I began to contemplate my next course of action.

Should I call animal control? Or maybe an exterminator? I still had no idea what kind of animal it was.

Might be better to postpone until later; animal control might want to check inside the walls or under floors. The last I needed was for them to find a dead body. Perhaps setting a trap would be better?

Or maybe I could just ignore it for now. The animal wasn't really causing any problems. Just knocking down a vase each night.

It was a pretty clumsy creature, to knock down that vase each night.

I frowned.

The enclave was sunken into the wall, the shelf a good three or four feet above the ground.

Somehow, that didn't fit with the idea of a small animal scurrying down a corridor. Even if it hugged the walls it wouldn’t knock down the vase so consistently.

Instead, what came to mind was the image of something large and clumsy, fumbling around blindly in the dark hallway, feeling along the wall and knocking down the vase each time.

I shuddered at the unpleasant image.

I dismissed the thought. Maybe it was something active and agile, like a monkey, leaping around. Or a cat; cats love knocking things off of tables and shelves.

The corridor with the vase was in the right wing, one of many that connected the two passageways.

It was nearest one to the atrium.

The glasshouse.

I was determined to get down to the bottom of this, even if I had to climb that tree myself.

When I got back, I cautiously entered the mansion.

It was dark in the main lobby; foolishly I had left the lights off when I left.

I flipped on the lights.

The lobby was empty, the mansion completely silent.

I headed down the right hallway, turning on the lights as I went.

As I approached the corridor with the enclave, I heard a soft thud.

The vase.

I froze, my hand on the light switch.

Whatever it was, it was already here.

The section in front of me was still dark. The side corridor housing the enclave and vase opened to my left, a good ten feet ahead of me.

I hesitated. If I turned on the lights, it would definitely retreat down the other passageway. Would I be fast enough to catch a glimpse?

I readied myself for a sprint. I cautiously flipped the switch. Light flooded the last section of the hallway.

I charged forward, raced around the corner.

And came to a screeching halt.

It was not a cat.

It was not an animal.

It was something so preposterous that I stood there, stunned, taking it all in.

It was a clump of gourd-like shapes, each almost as big as me, colored in garish hues.

Sunny egg-yolk yellow and deep golden yellow, pale fuchsia, soft shades of padparadscha, apricot and salmon pink, rosy muaves and lilacs and periwinkle-violet. Like a batch of colorful macarons, or collections of Dutch tulips and dazzling dahlias.

There were more intense shades. The golden orange of mango flesh so bright it almost glowed. Deep rosy shades of wine-red and the vivid plum shades of amethyst and every conceivable shade of Tyrian purple, violet and purplish-ruby in between, like deep lilac and dark reddish rose. Like an assortment of fruit-flavored sorbets, frozen yogurts and glistening gelato.

Some had their colors transition smoothly and subtly from one to another, but most were gloriously pigmented in striking contrast; bold, wild patterns of blotches, flaring streaks, solid bars and stripes.

All these bright saturated shades were in various combinations; a mess of fresh glossy spilled paints in every hue, globs of pure pigment and dyes straight out of an arts and crafts store. Like a medley of vivid tropical fish.

The top of each gourd opened to a gaping orifice with a fleshy rim, and was topped by an absurd hinged lid.

Each gourd was attached to a large glossy leaf via a long tendril, the tip of the leaf tapering into the tendril.

And each one moved.

The whole thing, leaf, tendril, gourd, all of it writhed and twitched.

The leaves were grouped into a clump on a long, massive woody vine or liana.

The vine supported itself on its leaf-tendrils and gourds like they were legs.

One leaf and its gourd were larger than the rest, and it held it forward like it was a head.

The whole thing was actively moving, scuttling like an enormous, spindly crab or spider.

It seemed sluggish, maybe even stuporous, as when I turned the corner it was still nosing and pawing at the vase it had just knocked over.

It lifted the gourd it was using as a head and pointed the opening at me.

I finally came to my senses and leaped backwards into the hallway. In my panic, when I tried to turn and run I tripped over my own feet and stumbled.

It shuffled forwards with deliberate steps like a botanical spider, the head gourd bobbing and weaving.

The array of leaves and gourds blocked the main passageway. The only way now was to the atrium.

I scrambled to my feet and dashed forward.

When I looked back, it seemed that it was following, but at its own leisurely pace.

A bit confused, I slowed my pace, but still kept my distance.

I now recognized it for what it was.

It was a colossal pitcher plant.

A giant pitcher plant walking on its traps.

As it came down the passageway, every now and then one or more of the traps would feel around the floor or walls or even the ceiling.

It was eerily silent, save for the rustling of leaves and traps.

It trailed its long vine behind it.

Now that I could take it in fully, I could see that the vine had a strange, ropy quality; as if it was made of many smaller vines and plants entwined together. What obfuscated the matter was the fact that down its entire length it bore leaves of various differing shapes and sizes: from large oval leaves with tapered tips, like ficus leaves, to narrow long leaves, like mango leaves, to thin pointed elongated leaves and small round ones, all in lush but patchy clusters and sprays, meandering tracts and irregular swathes. Like a sprawling jungle in miniature.

And each kind of leaf had a tendril bearing a brightly-colored pitcher trap of a corresponding size; the smallest leaves bore traps like swathes of scattered jellybeans. Along its length at irregular intervals were more various tufts and clumps of the larger leaves bearing the biggest pitchers, which were used for locomotion. The whole effect was like the writhing nightmarish underside of a prawn or lobster, but extended into a sea serpent.

The liana moved and scuttled on its myriad traps like a giant house centipede. A sleepy giant house centipede wearing giant multicolored streaked stockings.

It didn't seem like it was an immediate threat, but I was taking no chances with a giant carnivorous plant.

I reached the atrium. It was dimly illuminated by the light from the passageway.

An ominous rustling from all around.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

I made my way to the light switch and flipped it on.

Light flooded the atrium.

The long woody vine extended from the passageway all the way to the glasshouse, and vertically up its side.

To my amazement, the vine crawled down the glass wall with ease, using its pitcher traps like suction cups to grip the sheer surface.

As my eyes trailed upwards, I saw my mistake.

Near the top, there were hinged panels on the glasshouse that could be opened, probably for ventilation. The hinges were so unobtrusive that I had failed to notice them. The vine simply pushed a panel open like it was a lid.

There was no discernible end. More and more of the liana steadily slid off of the tree, through the open panel and marched down the wall like a bizarre tropical caterpillar.

Completely silent except for a soft rustling, the front end emerged from the passageway next to me.

With both passageways blocked off by the vine, the only way I could go was up. I galloped up the stairs to the second floor.

Looking out over the atrium from the second floor, I could see the plant had evidently lost track of me, the front end searching and waving around like a hungry leech.

Still, I was safe only momentarily. It could easily go up the stairs or climb up the wall.

I made my way back to the main lobby, running as quietly as I could.

My mind raced with questions.

What was going on?!

Where did that thing come from?

It must have been brought here by one of the owners. Certainly not Gerard.

The murderer? The dead man? The third guy?

Who were these people?!

It seemed incredible, but it had to be one of them, and somehow he had kept it a secret from others.

Still, how could the other men miss a giant plant stalking through the hallways of your vacation home?!

Perhaps the plant only just recently figured out how to escape, after everyone had left? Maybe the plant only found an exit after it had been left neglected for too long? The last owner moved out three months ago, and Gerard hadn't visited the mansion since then.

Plus, this thing seemed to roam around only at night; that would explain why the cleaning crew missed it.

I finally reached the stairs leading down to the lobby, sprinted down them two steps at a time.

I had forgotten about the other glasshouse. In the other atrium.

There was another plant in the lobby.

This one was strikingly different. Its traps had bright orange rims and mouths and were various mottled shades of warm brown; tones of whiskey and brandy, dark ambers and liquid honey.

The head-pitcher jerked and swiveled to face me as soon I had stomped into the lobby. More of the vine scuttled into the lobby while the front turned to face me.

This one was alert. Active.

Dangerous, I realized too late.

It slithered forwards with surprising speed, like an octopus on the offensive.

I sprinted back up the steps, three at a time.

Fool I was to think I could outrun it. It was a climbing arboreal vine, it had suction cups for feet, and it had hundreds of them.

Stairs were nothing to it. It just shot up through stairwell, and intercepted me at the landing.

It knocked me down. Stunned, I slid painfully down the steps.

I thrashed about, stuck out my arms and legs as far as I could. The larger traps were big enough to engulf me whole; I was desperately hoping to prevent or at least impede that awful eventuality. I felt the mouths of the traps on my body. I twisted and bucked violently at each touch. Still, it dragged me down the steps. Frantically I pawed at the carpeting, trying to grab at anything to stop my descent.

Despite my best efforts, it pinned me to the lobby floor, and started dragging me away.

I flailed and screamed, but what was the point? No one was around for miles.

I could feel the smaller pitchers moving all over my body, seemingly examining me, or perhaps sampling me?

It suddenly paused. It raised several pitchers seemingly in alarm.

I looked up.

A mess of bright colored streaks shuffled into the lobby. The other, more colorful plant.

In sharp contrast to its earlier behavior, it skittered forward with terrifying speed.

The second plant let me go and retreated back into the passageway.

I tried to roll away and get up, but the colorful plant was already on me.

And barreled right through me, knocking me aside.

It was going after the other plant.

I wasn't about to question the whole. I got to my feet rushed to the doors, ran outside, jumped into my car and was soon speeding down the highway.

I booked a room in an overpriced hotel. The clerk at the front desk was clearly suspicious of my shaken appearance but didn't press the issue.

It was only when I sat down when it all came crashing down.

I put my head in my hands, my body was shaking uncontrollably.

What did I just go through?!

Over and over the events of the night played out in my mind, and each time raising more questions and seeming more unreal and preposterous.

I was in a panicked fog of furious thought, unable to focus any one thing.

Where did they come from? Who brought them here?

Why did the first plant seemingly ignore me and go after the other one?

Finally, one thought coalesced from among the others.

What was I going to do?

I had an overwhelming urge to drop the whole thing and just leave. But then I would have nothing to show for all my effort.

Calling Gerard was out of the question. What was I even supposed to say?

Animal control? I almost laughed; I needed plant control, not animal control.

I had to pull myself together; I could not let myself become hysterical.

But then I remembered something: these things were inactive during the day.


I still had a chance. I could take action.

I just barely restrained myself from running in the streets shouting "Eureka!"

I calmed myself down, I still had to figure out what do.

Destroy them? Or perhaps contain them? Perhaps sealing the openable panels would do.

I had no idea how strong they were. Strong enough to knock down an adult human, yes, but were they strong enough to smash through glass?

They hadn't broken through the glasshouses, but would that change once they had no easy exit?

Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night.

Morning came, and I reluctantly roused myself to action. I called up a discreet security firm who would provide a bunch of burly guys, no questions asked. I bought a couple of axes and a formidable pair of garden shears.

I didn't really have a concrete plan. I just wanted to scope out the situation before I decided what do next. I expected the plants to be dormant and back in the glasshouses during the day, so I would be safe to enter then. The hired muscle was mostly for back-up in case things went south.

At 9:00 am sharp they were waiting for me in a black van in front of the hotel. Big, tough-looking men; the smallest guy seemed fully capable of tying me in a knot. They took the axes I proffered without batting an eye. I kept the shears for myself.

I drove up to the mansion, my entourage following in their van.

As I pulled up, I glanced up at the house.

I felt my chest seize with horror.

The front doors were wide open.

In my terror-stricken escape, I had left them open.

I almost drove the car up the steps before I hit the brakes and jumped out.

I ran up the stairs. Bits of leaf and chunks of earth and dirt covered the steps.

The trail of debris led up to through the doors and into the lobby. Here the dirt trail branched into two; one to each side. I turned to the right hallway.

I ran with reluctant haste; the paradoxical gait of a man who was in a rush, yet at the same dreaded the destination.

I reached the atrium.

The tree still stood.

It was completely bare.

All its foliage, the cloak of vines and lianas that once blanketed it, was gone.

Around its base, the earth was ripped up, with clumps of soil scattered all over the place.

Nothing remained but a few scattered leaves. Leaves that tapered into strange, gourd-like shapes.

I sank to the floor. I didn't need to check the other atrium; I knew its glasshouse would be empty as well, save for a bare tree.

I was at a loss. The guys I hired decided not ask too many questions, and to make the best of it did a big show of checking the mansion for intruders. I knew they wouldn't find anything.

I paid up and dismissed them.

What now?

The situation had simply grown way out of hand. I could no longer handle it alone.

I moped around for a bit, then packed my things, locked the place up and left.

I dreaded having to face Gerard. I wasn't even sure what angle to take. How was I going to frame this? Resignation? Was I giving up? Or indignation? Was I outraged that I had been put in danger's way? Was any of this even salvageable?

I took a taxi straight from the airport to the hospital, and was still debating myself and rehearsing my speech as I walked towards his ward, when I got my second nasty surprise of the day.

There were cops all over the place. One was planted on a chair right outside my uncle's room.

The nurses evaded my questioning, so I inquired from the officer that seemed the most talkative and the least professional.

Good old Uncle Gerard was under arrest. Not for murder, thankfully, but for fraud.

That whole resort project? A massive Ponzi scheme. The investors were getting antsy so he knew he had to show them something, which is why he was so eager to have the house ready and hired me to check out the property beforehand.

Speaking of property, when he said he "convinced" his third partner to sell? It was more "hired of bunch of goons to coerce him into signing over ownership." Yep, good old-fashioned extortion.

At that point I started to seriously wonder whether that other partner really did die a natural death. I wouldn't have been surprised if Gerard was the real murderer, or that he was in cahoots with the murder all along.

So, here we had one murderer, one scammer and extortionist, one dead man, and who knows what sort of shenanigans the last guy was up to. Maybe drugs? Espionage?

This mansion business was cursed from start to finish. I should have never taken this job.

The whole thing was an absolute mess. I definitely could not afford to get involved any further.

So I bailed. Left the keys and plans at the front desk, walked out that hospital and never looked back.

I moved to another state, started anew. Had to get a new license, even changed my name and everything.

It's been slow-going, but I'm making ends meet.

Colleagues in the business gave me a heads up, told me that the last guy, the one who got extorted and the remaining living owner who had not (yet) been arrested for a crime, was looking for me. "Just wanted to talk," they said. I wanted nothing to do with him.

I still constantly check the local news in Hawaii for any strange occurrences or disappearances. None so far.

It's always on my mind. The fact that two plant-monsters are loose in Hawaii, mostly thanks to me, weighs heavy on my conscience. Sometimes, when the pangs of my conscience become a bit too overwhelming, I seriously consider alerting the authorities and turning myself in. I really do, but so far, self-preservation and cowardice have won out in the end.

I'm never setting foot in Hawaii ever again.

The only other thing that nagged at my mind was the mystery of why, in the last encounter, the first plant had ignored me, and instead went after the second one. I hardly think it was out of altruism.

I still vividly recall the second plant immediately letting go of me and beating a hasty retreat. As if it feared its brightly-colored sibling.

I think I might have found a clue.

While mindlessly browsing the net one day, I came across a post by some lady who planted a bunch of tulips.

To her surprise, when they all bloomed, one turned out to be quite different from the others, and she posted a picture.

The other tulips were all a solid, even shade of bright scarlet, but the odd one out was streaked and flamed in a familiar pattern, in glorious saffron yellow and deep blood-red.

The lady explained that the streaked tulip was a "broken tulip", a plant that had been infected by the tulip-breaking virus, which caused its solid color to break up in striking patterns.

I had a run-in with what must have been a plant zombie.