Yes, at last, the end of the story . . . better 3 1/2 months late than never, right?
If you’ve forgotten everything that ever happened, you can visit the other chapters to refresh your memory. (Note: at the moment, Chapter 9 is missing. I’m working to resolve this but it might be a bit. My apologies!)
And now, at last, I tie up the loose ends, and give you:
Pounding punctuates Wanda’s screams of rage: it sounds like she’s kicking the door of the borrowed car. But before I can do anything about it, several battered vehicles screech to a halt on the other side of the knot of smashed cars. My dad and a bunch of guys I don’t recognize–all looking pretty beat up–jump out of the vehicles. They survey the scene, and I turn back to see what’s happening.
The plants have stopped attacking: I can feel gran keeping them at bay with her will, but I can also feel their hunger and aggression intensifying. Even she won’t be able to hold them off for long. At least now that we have reinforcements, we have a chance of winning when they attack again. We should be finishing them off now, but I can tell everyone is exhausted they’re just grateful for a chance to catch their breath.
I’d never seen a real flame thrower before today. Now there are 10 or more, and the guys with my dad are adjusting them and getting ready to go in for the kill.
The screams and thumps coming from the car intensify.
The plants rustle and shuffle in place, and I know they’re getting ready to move again. There’s no more avoiding it–gran is going to die. I mean, she’s already kind of gone, what with being a carnivorous plant and all, but I can still feel a tiny spark of who she was underneath the confusion and hunger.
That’s about to go out forever.
Because however much I love her, I can’t choose my gran over the entire human race–and at the rate these things multiply and feed, that’s what it would come down to in the end. I look up at her, and it’s impossible to tell that she was ever human. I don’t even know how she sees, but I can feel her attention on me anyway, and across the wrecked cars and the blood and the flames we understand each other perfectly. This is goodbye.
I lift the spray nozzle of my canister and square my shoulders.
“I’m so sorry,” I whisper, and I realize I’m saying it to all of them. If only things could be different. If only they could walk among us peacefully. It’s the same old problem we have everywhere: why can’t we all just get along?
For as long as they’ve existed, plants have managed to stay put, work together, and live harmoniously with their environment. Give them human DNA and BOOM, they’re homicidal monsters. Too bad we can’t flame that part of our nature away like we can flame these plants.
Just as I’m getting ready to flip the switch and advance on the last of my brother’s creations, I’m tackled from the side by a snarling someone. It’s Wanda . . . and she’s transitioning into one of them. But she’s still human enough to speak, and as we hit the ground she says “Sorry sweetie, but if I want to save my ass I have to bring you and your brother into the labs.”
So I was right not to trust her. Too bad the plant infection made her strong enough to break my makeshift restraints. She clearly doesn’t realize that her ass is already grass–almost literally.
Jamie appears in the periphery of my blurred vision, and Wanda leaps off of me to grab him by the arm. She’s strong all right–he can’t get break her grip on his wrist, and she drags him toward me while he struggles. She grasps my arm with her free hand before I can even think of finding the nozzle and spraying her. She seems somehow like an enhanced version of the mutant plants–are they evolving already, or has Wanda been partaking of something else at the labs?
“Come on Wanda, you’re not totally gone yet,” Jamie says. “You’re infected but you don’t have to do this! We can cure you, just let us . . .”
She snarls at him and squeezes his wrist. His face goes dead white as she twists and I hear a sickening crack. My stomach heaves, but it’s been so long since I ate there’s nothing to throw up. Jamie stops talking, and Wanda starts dragging us toward the car.
No one else notices–they’re all too busy taking down the plants, which are starting to fight back in spite of Gran’s efforts.
Wanda yanks on Jamie’s probably broken arm . . . and my brother faints. She starts toward the car again, but suddenly lurches forward and stumbles into the car, letting go of Jamie and me. The jerking motion knocks me to my knees. I’ve been running on adrenaline for hours, and as I lay on the ground panting I think maybe I’d like to just be eaten and get it over with. But I look up, and I see Gran standing over Wanda . . . or what’s left of her. There are a few Wanda pieces on the ground, and plant-Gran has blood all over her leaves. I stare at the vibrant red on green, like the sickest Christmas ever. I heave again, but of course nothing comes up. My mouth tastes unbelievably foul.
“Gran,” I sob, and she shuffles toward me. I should be afraid, I should run, but I can feel her mind, her intentions, and in spite of the gore all over her I know she won’t hurt me. She stands over me, and a tendril of green spirals from among the vines to brush against my cheek.
Then I hear her calling all the plants to her, and I know what is coming next.
It’s not a word, exactly, but as all the lumbering plant things converge on Gran, I hear it: now.
I stumble to my feet. All the fighting has stopped, and the humans are all standing there panting, with expressions on their face that say they know they’ve barely escaped death. A few feet from me is a puddle of blood with bits of flesh and bone in it. In the center of the puddle is an abandoned flame weeder like we used to use on the brick walkways at Gran’s house. Swallowing against the nausea, I grab the flame weeder, turn the propane up as high as it will go, and turn.
“Now,” I scream . . . and everyone looks confused. How exasperating. They’re supposed to be grownups.
“Burn them!” I yell. They should be able to understand that.
“But honey,” my mom says. “Your gran–“
“I KNOW!” I scream. I turn my back on my mother and start flaming the plants nearest me. I hear them scream as their foliage curls and blackens.
The other plants move closer to me, and finally everyone else joins in.
Within minutes the disaster has been reduced to a pile of ash, blowing in an errant breeze.
I can finally collapse.
It’s a week before any of us feels strong enough to have a funeral for gran. We’ve spent the days since our victory rounding up all the survivors and pooling our resources of bottled water and canned food.The soil and water are poisoned by all the gallons of herbicide required to kill off the plant things.
A few doctors and nurses survived, and the hospital wasn’t too badly damaged: Jamie’s broken arm is set, and in a cast, and all the other injuries were treated successfully. Those of us who weren’t killed immediately are lucky we won’t die of untreated wounds and blood loss.
So far we’ve managed to keep reporters away by crying infectious disease. But sooner or later we’re going to have to leave. Sooner or later we’re going to have to account for all the dead–dead whose bodies are missing. And we just don’t know what to do about that.
Gran doesn’t have a body to bury either–it’s all just ash. There’s ash everywhere, ash and poison and blood stains. Birds and fish are dying, the trees and grass are dying, from all the poison. We have to go.
As we stand at Gran’s funeral I can see on everyone’s faces that they think it’s over. And maybe it’s over for them.
But not for me. Because as I stand here with the sun shining on me, I can hear them. I can hear all of the un-mutated plants. And they’re suffering.
Whatever happened to me when I was one of the plant things has changed me forever.
The minister’s wife–the minister was eaten, but his wife memorized all of the rites–finishes her final prayer and we all walk away from the marker we’ve placed for gran even though there’s no body to bury.
When we get back to Gran’s house, the sounds of suffering from her garden are more than I can bear. I go to the shed and find our old flame weeder. There’s plenty of propane in the tank to finish the garden off. Somehow it’s louder than all the other green places, and I can’t take it anymore. I’ll burn it to the ground and then till the soil.
As I’m picking my way through the rakes and shovels, I trip and fall full length on the hard floor of the shed. Gardening implements rattle and fall around me, and my hand slides across something sharp. I feel my flesh slice open and remember the horrible incident with the knives, Jamie and Wanda bleeding the poison out of me. I force myself to breathe. I force myself to stand up. I kick my way out of the shed, determined to finish this mission before I do anything about my hand. And anyway, what’s a little more blood on the leaves?
I drop the flame weeder at the edge of the garden. I want to say goodbye, since I know the plants will understand me now. Maybe someday this new ability I have will seem like a gift.
I touch a rosemary bush with my bloody hand. Red smears over the foliage, and flashes of Wanda’s blood all over plant-Gran make me gag a little bit.
“I’m so sorry,” I say–just like before, and I wonder how many more times in my life I’ll have to apologize to plants I’m getting ready to kill.
I’m reaching for the flame weeder when I feel it. There’s a shift in the sound the rosemary makes in my head. It’s like . . . relief. I turn back to look at the plant.
My blood has vanished, like the plant soaked it up. Or drank it.
And either I’m hallucinating, or the leaves that were starting to wither and blacken are brightening before my eyes.
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth and the hairs on the back of my neck lift. What if it’s beginning all over again? What if Gran’s garden goes all horror show on me?
But the good vibes I feel coming from the rosemary reassure me. It doesn’t feel anything like the evil plant creations, it’s not turning gold, and it’s not moving or growing at an alarming rate.
Maybe plant telepathy isn’t the only gift of being turned into a monster, being bled half to death, and having to kill my gran. Maybe the change in my blood can save Gran’s garden, and the rest of our town.
And I just happen to have a not-so-evil genius brother to help me figure it out.
I yell for Jamie.