It is the smell that Dachery notices first. A sour odor, not quite spoiled but rather acidic, wafts through the air. It joins the thick artificial popcorn butter and the sucrose of cotton candy to make a nauseating maelstrom of humidity which permeates through the Florida marsh. The colors come second; baby blue orchids and ruby red roses poke out from the specimen’s flesh, crawling to the sun as if to scream repentance. The stalk of a sunflower sprouts in the center of the creature’s brows, bursting upwards and opening great yellow leaves to hug the world. That is what Dachery calls it: a creature or specimen. The words are interchangeable. But it had hopes and dreams, however small and limited it would be to be found living in a muggy and dragonfly patrolled town carnival in some forgotten Floridian town.
The flowers sprouting from its body stretch into a rotting bed that is approximately 8 feet long. The creature has been pulled apart, perhaps from the vines that cling to its separated torso and waist, like the strings of a marionette. Or perhaps the vines came separately. The skeleton has long since decomposed beyond recognition of even gender; even its clothes have been absorbed by the moss and brought into the marsh. What remains of its jaw hangs off on a hinge with the opening of the mouth filled with dirt occupied by fungi that is not native to this humid climate. The hollows of its eyes are covered in moss, like a double eyepatch.
Dachery takes out a hankie and wipes his brows of sweat. He rolls up his sleeves and reaches into his pocket for a cigarette. He loosens his tie, ignites the tobacco in between thin lips, and walks away from the creature to survey the open marsh that expands into a full square mile. Lichen and frogs swim to the surface, and in the deep, probably a crocodile. Or an alligator. Dachery always gets them confused. He hears the crunching of his partner’s boots before she announces himself. Dachery already has a cigarette waiting for her.
“No thanks. I promised Sophia I’d stop,” Margot said.
“Cutting out bourbon too?”
Margot smirked, “How do you think we met?”
Dachery looks out to the marsh, stifles a smile at his partner. “Small towns like this give me the creeps.”
“Says a detective in a state with mainly marshland.”
He closes his eyes and forces the strange specimen’s presence out of his mind. A lemonade mixer buzzes for no one. Hamburger wrappers and plastic hotdog containers move like tumbleweed in the muggy wind. The rickety Ferris Wheel peeks from over the trees, carriages dangling in the sky like forgotten Christmas ornaments. Figures dangle out of the bars; limbs hang at odd angles. Dachery cannot make details, but he does recognize the difference between long arms and short ones. He wonders if any bodies are slumped against the base of the wheel, and if any have skulls broken from impact during a botched attempt to escape from the highest carriage. He wonders if these people even knew that death was upon them. For some reason, the alternative makes him more anxious. He fears that whatever force has befallen the faire is invisible, illusive. That the people did not understand the madness or could not comprehend it. Maybe, Dachery counters to himself, maybe that is more of a blessing.
Margot looks over her shoulder. Her thick black hair is matted against her forehead, shiny with sweat. Her hair is put up in a knot that had once looked professional, but now was as unkempt as Dachery’s own five-o-clock shadow. She is smarter than Dachery in the temperature department; she keeps her blazer in the car and rolls up her sleeves. Dachery slings his blazer over his forearm. He is getting tired holding it.
“I’d try to find some water, but I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she says.
“I’d rather drink the marsh,” Dachery says. He flicked the cigarette into the dirt and crushes it with the heel of his boot.
They walk through a cluster of empty tents and stalls. Stuffed animals cling to the wall behind a stacked row of bottles, never to be claimed by a child who can knock each bottle down with a slingshot. Grills of burnt sausages hold a collection of burnt hotdogs that look like scabbed fingers. Ice boxes containing beer have lost all its ice and became pools of warm, muggy water, the paper labels long since peeled and floated to the top. The counters are sticky with spilled lemonade and cola.
The two detectives approach a strength test with the meter broken.
Dachery bends down and examines the mallet. He looks up at the meter and wonders if he could ever pass the test and ring the bell. He never could. He nudges the mallet with the butt of his pistol, afraid to touch it. The moss is dark red, the color of blood, and covers a portion of the face of the mallet. It looks almost like the point of impact, like it had been used as a weapon. A bead of sweat trails down the bridge of his nose and fall on the moss, erupting a froth of gurgling foam. It sizzles like a chemical burn before receding back into the moss, leaving a sweat drop sized mark of black against the red.
“Dachery,” Margot calls from around the corner, “you’ve got to check this out.”
He follows her voice and rounds to a dunk tank. The water is dark green with a layer of algae clinging to the sides and skimming to the top. Dandelions and tulips pop out like ribbons. The platform above the tank has collapsed. In the briny water a silhouette lay in stasis, suspended in the ichor, arms outstretched. The algae creeps over the edge of the still water, moving like clawing fingers over the metal bolted rim of the tank. The sign above is blanketed by a thin layer of sediment and scum and hangs diagonally. Words written in algae with as much precision as a marker to a whiteboard grows from the splintered wood:
Rejoice, repent, revive.
The world accepts, palms up to the sun, the hands of the Moss Prophet.
Dachery notices that Margot is holding her pistol before he notices that he has instinctively gotten his out as well. He sets his coat on one of the red and white draped picnic tables. The dunk tank stretches away from them, the shadowy figure floating blissfully in its moss blanketed womb. Beyond, near the edge of the marsh and the entrance to the carnival, the specimen lay succumbed to the Earth.
They strafe along the paths, hearing the crunching of sand underneath their boots. Empty stalls box them in; cash registers and tip jars with soggy bills. Scabs of algae start on corners and creeps onto folding plastic chairs. Dandelions pop up from random spots in the ground, without any dirt or fertilization. Purple orchids and azure tulips cling to the tops of torn tents like barnacles.
The porto-johns are covered almost entirely with a thin layer of algae that creeps from the ground. Blue and orange petals line over green fuzz. The doors are welded shut with spongy ichor, and occasionally their heels give into some surrendering of the land, as if softened by invisible rainfall. The Ferris Wheel looms above the trees, the carriages swinging vacantly in some higher wind. The slumped figures are still shadowed with distance, but Dachery can now make out details of arms hanging limp through metal barriers, of foreheads pressed in between the gaps.
“I don’t like this place, Dachery,” Margot says, her eyes darting from the fuzzy porto-johns.
“Me neither.” He put his back to hers, keeps his fingers on his gun.
Beads of sweat trail down Dachery’s back. Beyond them, the wind rustles. He feels the eyes of the dunk tank drifting towards him, bobbing in some contaminated womb. The specimen is far away now. He wants to submit to the psychic, unexplainable sense that the flowers sprouting from the creature’s brows, thighs, forearms, follow him as they would the sun. He wants to. It will be easier.
“The Moss Prophet,” Margot says. She repeats: “The Moss Prophet.”
“Sounds like a cult,” Dachery says.
He does not know why they stopped here, in the middle of the designated porto-john zone, but they did. He kicks away a baseball cap. Empty plastic cans of lemonade and hamburger wrappers litter the grounds, each their own biome of infectious moss that wiggle all its fibers in the beating sun. The trashcans, previously over flowed, have been absorbed entirely by the land, and now stick up like totems of seamless carpet; rounded lumps threatening to pierce from the mud like a zit. The Ferris Wheel reaches into the sky-
A door opens with the sound of shredding paper. A figure flops out like a fallen broom. Margot aims, fires. Birds escape from the trees and into the clouds. Dachery swears he notices their feathers dipped in what appear to be dark green tar. Margot gestures to Dachery and they walked across the court. She takes position next to an over-turned trashcan that is blanketed by wriggling algae, switching gaze to the other doors. The figure is in Dachery’s iron sights, and he knows from the sudden hissing of gas akin to a deflating balloon and the pungent, sour smell of rotting vegetables that whatever this creature is seems to be either a mannequin or halfway to becoming a specimen. He knows for certain that it is not human. Not anymore.
It slumps into the foliage; its nose pressed into the dirt. Its skull is half caved in with an indent from the bullet. It looks like a stone pierced a rotting pumpkin. It is hairless and green, and in the shine of the Floridian sun it seems to glisten with a caked layer of sweat. Its features, half buried, are either absent or transformed. The dimensions of a normal nose have been reduced to something upturned and skeletal, the eyes poking out purple and yellow orchids in full bloom. Moss creeps from the darkness of its lungs and lines the roof of its mouth, clawing upwards into some reverse mustache. Lady bugs traverse on its limp tongue.The interior of the porto-john emits the impression of some infinite, cosmic void.
“Do you see anything?” Margot calls from across the lot.
Dachery bends down, ignores the bead of sweat trailing down the bridge of his nose to his upper lip. “No,” he says, “just a body.”
“A don’t trust that explanation, Dachery.”
Dachery looks into the flowers that occupy the creature’s eyes. They are beautiful. A ladybug crawls from the inside of its cheek and nestles on the layer of moss underneath its nose. Its shell is pink, and what Dachery has originally perceived to be dots are instead strange stars, as if the dots had “bled out” its ink. He takes the pistol and uses it to nudge the skull. A plume of rotting vegetable smell almost knocks Dachery backwards. He closes his mouth, stops his breathing. The flesh is soft. He felt like he was pushing into a cake. The air around him becomes thick, amplified by the muggy humidity. Dachery grits his teeth and pressed the .22 into the creature’s elbow. It offers no resistance, the flesh squishy and receding into an even spongier, swollen bone. He swallows in a fist of rotting vegetable.
Margot comes to check on Dachery ten minutes later. He hunches over, one hand on his knee, the other on a sun heated bench. Orange vomit cascades onto the dirt next to discarded hotdog wrappers and containers of chili.
“Mint?” She holds out a white capsule.
He takes one, chews, swallows.
“You’re supposed to suck on them. They aren’t gum,” she says.
He pulls out a cigarette and cups the flame away from a warm gust of wind. “I took it as a courtesy.”
Margot looks back. They are forty feet from the porto-john lot. The Ferris Wheel looms to their left, glittering from the sun.
“How much light do we have left?” Dachery asks.
“Couple of hours.”
“Did you call for backup?”
“I needed to do something while you were tasting your breakfast sausages again.”
Dachery inhales, taking long drags to eradicate the sour taste of vomit that cakes on his tongue. “’Rejoice, repent, revive. The world accepts, palms up to the sun, the hands of the Moss Prophet’. Spooky.”
“I’ll say,” Margot says, Margot shields her eyes from the sun. She faces the collection of porto-johns, standing stagnant like old relics. Her shoulder perks upwards, turning her away from the looming Ferris Wheel. Dachery wonders if this is conscious or if he is over thinking it. “What do you think happened?”
Dachery shrugs. “Could be anyone’s guess.”
“The Moss Prophet,” she says, turning to him.
“Either something religious happened here, or it sure as hell tried to.”
“Nothing here makes any sense, Dachery. Nothing at all.”
“It’s bizarre. Gives me the creeps.”
“I could use a bourbon right about now.”
“Let’s head back before dark. I don’t want to be here without my flashlight.”
Dachery squashes out the butt of the cigarette with the heel of his boot. “Then let’s stop wasting time.”
They started their advance once Margot’s nerves and Dachery’s stomach settles. They skirt the edges of the porto-john collective and wade in between the stalls once more. Moss has advanced on the sticky picnic benches and little bulbs litter along patches of green like festering zits. The moss on tops of the tents inch closer to one another, bridging the empty space. It spears out, ignorant of gravity, like fingers yearning to touch. Their speed slows when they approach the dunk tank, and they skirt the perimeter as if it is a wild animal. The figure remains in stasis, shadowed in the murky, algae infested waters. Strings of kelp now loft from the bottom, trailing from its thighs and forearms. A crema of algae bobs in the sun beaten wind. The sign, written in a thriving, wriggling ecosystem of moss, now features deep purple orchids and scarlet roses. The moss has become more vibrant, turning the words into bulging, wriggling, blistering masses. Strange lady bugs crawl along the rim of the tank.
“This is impossible,” Dachery says. “How can the greenery grow so fast here?”
Margot shakes her head, looking up at the sign, her eyes fixated on Moss Prophet. “The only thing that grows this fast is cancer.”
Dachery grunts. He goes to the picnic table to retrieve his jacket but discovers it is blanketed in its entirety by moss. The furry bristles move like seaweed underneath a river, feeling the air with tiny fingers. A beetle trots along the picnic table and Dachery sees the formation of a miniature ecosystem. Mushrooms sprout from the layer of grass that carpeted the once red-and-white checkered cover. Invitro bulbs pulse and shine. The beetle roams, poking its horn into pustules of glowering bulbs. It is the color of ivory. He was wanted to shoot it, shoot the whole damn jacket.
“Leave it,” Margot says, “it’s too hot anyway.”
She has not yet surrendered to total urgency, but Dachery knows she is getting anxious; he is too. On patrols around town, she is more likely to explode in fits of frustration over the smallest things…too much grease on her fingertips, the light taking too long at an intersection. She is a slow releasing, and thus regulating, valve of emotional turmoil. Yet throughout she is known to keep her temper, and Dachery know that he will mentally break before she did. But when she does, Dachery might as well be alone. They joked at the precinct that the two of them are a perfect pair if the objective is to maintain an endurable state of collective frustration throughout the day. It is only a matter of time before one of them would snap. The weeds are getting to them both.
They walk along the way they came, turning a corner on the foot path that leads to the sea of towering sunflowers connecting the main entrance of the faire to the rest of it. The stalks stretch to the sun at just above seven feet, forming almost an alleyway. It must have been beautiful, a reminder of summer and celebration. Still, the sunflower heads ignore the carnage and corruption that has swept over the faire like a noxious cloud. Bright yellow leaves sway in the breeze. The stalks interlace and form a wall with the sheer thickness of the clusters. The dirt path looks like a tightrope among a sea of sunshine.
They stop at the threshold, looking down the warping path. Dachery and Margot hold their pistols with both hands, their palms slippery. Their armpits are damp with sweat, and the back of their forearms glisten in the sun from wiping perspiration from their brows. The sun crawls closer to the horizon, just below the pine trees. It disappears behind the Ferris Wheel. From this distance and behind the prism of humidity it seemed to pulse like an idle jellyfish.
Dachery goes first, looking over his shoulder to make sure Margot’s footsteps are real and she is indeed following him. He did not believe in ghosts, but as of today he knows that he is not sure to believe in anything anymore. They walk along the path single file, Margot walking backwards to cover their flank. The path dipped at the sides, creating a clear distinction that the dirt to their right and left belongs to sunflowers. It is impossible to see past three, four rows of stalks, and even in the depths of their cluster they swayed in the wind. Dachery focuses ahead of him with a tunnel vision approach. In his peripheries he catches a glimpse of the yellow petals, of the white seeds in the middle. He only focuses on the exit. Anything that steps in front, even if it was the specimen reanimated, is subject to shooting.
“The sunflowers,” Margot says.
“Shut up,” Dachery speaks through gritted teeth.
Margot’s voice croaked, almost a sob. “The sunflowers.”
“Almost there, Margot.”
“The sunflowers have teeth! The seeds are teeth! They are salivating!”
Dachery fights against his curiosity. He is taking short breaths now. His body shakes.
Margot moans. “Human teeth, Dachery! What has been unleashed here?”
“Margot!” Dachery stops, lets her bump into him.
He reaches behind him and takes her wrist, half leading, half pulling through the path. He keeps his focus narrow, refusing to look at the ivory teeth that pull at him, refusing to examine the glimpses of torn flannel and wife-beaters at the edges of the dirt, tangled in between sunflower stalks. He keeps his focus exclusively on the yellow, the familiar color of sunlight. It anchors him, assures him that whatever lurks at the precipice of his vision has not yet claimed everything. Margot kicks her heels into the dirt path. She twists her wrist to free from Dachery’s grasp, but he holds her harder. She swears, spits, weeps, even head butts Dachery’s shoulder from behind. She swings the pistol around like extension of her fist, and Dachery thought that she has forgotten she was holding it. She had cracked. The sunflowers have broken her.
They make it to the edge, and Dachery uses the last of his strength to pull her with him as he lunges into the dirt. They tumble atop of plastic cups sticky with cola and dropped hotdogs already infested with maggots. Margot’s face falls on a candy wrapper, smearing sun beat chocolate on her cheek, looking like an apostrophe of shit. Her face is red and blotchy, her eyes glassy with tears. Her lower lip balloons to one side, purple and lacerated from her own biting down. She looks at the clouds with a dumb, tired expression.
Dachery rolls over onto his buttocks, sitting on some gravel. Patches of dirt scrape along his knees and his chest. He pushes a moss claimed plastic hot dog canoe away with the nozzle of the .22. The sunflowers loomed behind him, taunting his curiosity. Smiling. Smiling at him with a thousand little molars, dry and chalky from the sun. The two of them wait a bit until Dachery is sure Margot reclaimed her faculties. She looks away from him, and for a second in the coming twilight of the day she looks almost like a child, ashamed to be afraid of the dark.
“It’s fine,” Dachery says, so she did not have to apologize, “we made it.”
“Don’t tell anyone, okay?”
“They wouldn’t believe you about this place anyway,” he chews the inside of his cheek, “Come on, you need to follow me.”
“Let’s stay at the car.”
“No. I need to see the creature.”
Margot’s brows furrow. Her face returns to her normal self. “You can’t even call it human, Dachery?”
Margot looks away, at the setting sun. She says, “Why? What solace would it give you?”
“I need to know it’s still there. The prospect of the alternative is more frightening. But I can’t do it alone.”
“Dachery, come on now. This is stupid. Why?”
Dachery looks at her. “Because I’m afraid, Margot. But I’d rather be afraid and know than be afraid and not know.”
Margot looks back at the sunflowers, then trailed to the Ferris Wheel across the open waters. She seems hardened, but not much more than Dachery. Touching insanity allowed her some immunity to it. She looks at him and gestures with her head to start moving.
The marsh glitters and ripples before them. Behind the trees the Ferris Wheel is cast in shadow. Dachery takes Margot’s hand and helps her up. Together they walked along the marsh shore, keeping their eyes on the car to ensure that they could really leave and abandon their station. It crosses both of their minds.
Water flies skated across the water, leaving little curves of their wake. Daffodils and lotuses pierce the water in droves, anchoring onto something deep into the ichor. Lily pads gather along the shore like lazy bumper cars. The fairgrounds no longer smell of stale funnel cake and burnt meat. Now a weak acidic odor of rotting vegetable burps from the marsh. The air turns from beating hot to chilly, and breeze hits their sweat stained skin with icy kisses.
They come upon the creature, but it, like Dachery has predicted, is not quite what it looked like when they left it. The flowers which sprout from its forearms, thighs, and brows had spread to its joints. Its dislodged jaw is covered with the mossy fur of pulsing algae. The sunflower, fortunately not mutated with teeth, seems to flap in the still air. Layers of moss stuck to the limbs of the creature and adhere it to the marsh. It looks like it was melting. Lady bugs crawl in and out of vacant eye sockets. Some move along the vines that push what had remained of its sternum and waist to a length of nine feet. Flower buds blossom underneath cracked fingernails.
“There,” Margot says, “are you happy?”
“Let’s get back to the car,” Dachery says, thinking of lighting another cigarette to get rid of the smell.
The sun is just beyond the crest of the trees now, casting the marsh with a purple and orange glow. Their backup is set to arrive in the next thirty minutes, and of what little words were exchanged between the two, they agreed that it could not pass fast enough. Empty stalls lingered on the grounds, flapping vine laced tarp. Splotches of shining algae engulf tossed plastic cups and foldout chairs. They looked like scabs. Both Dachery and Margot keep to themselves, looking out to the marsh and the Ferris Wheel beyond. Dachery is not sure what Margot feels, but he knows that he wants to keep an eye on that creaking wheel. He smokes two cigarettes and leans on the hood of the car, his pistol within arm’s reach. Margot sits on the hood, looking up at the orange clouds.
Dandelions peek from the pines, like the light of an angler fish. Green claws wrap disjointed and flower fingers along bark, not to pull the tree down, but to push itself up. A dislodged jawbone swing from the end of a cheekbone. The torso appears from the twilight shaded trees, clawing at the neighboring branches to gain purchase. The vines stretch and tether along its spinal cord and disappear into the depth of the forest, like the marionette strings of a hidden puppeteer. Spots of moss cling to the dried bone like scabs. The skull of the specimen rattles, goes limp, picks itself up again.
Margot appears next to Dachery, her .22 locked. Dachery assumes his position, keeping his back to hers, glancing around the perimeter of the faire for other intruders.
“Put your hands up!” Margot yells, “We’ll shoot!”
The creature ignores her. It digs its fingers into the bark. Miniature petals of yellow and blue fall to the dirt like torn butterfly wings. It puffs out its chest, revealing mossy algae that falls from its ribs like drapes. Dachery is not sure what the creature was and refuses to attempt to conceptualize its existence.
“Last warning!” Margot yells.
The specimen twitches again. Its jaw hangs limp, tethered by a brittle tendon corroded by algae. Lady bugs trail along its face, its spongy limbs. The leaves rustle the water pressed against the marshy shore. Vibrations sweep, almost like an ambush, from the edges of the woods and the abandoned stalls to their vehicle. The specimen looks on, dumbly, blankly, a sunflower dangling like a broken limb.
The vibrations form words.
“Herein lies the Moss Prophet.”
It bounces from the leaves and through the blades of grass, over the stalks of the sunflowers and the canopy of moss that tethers each abandoned tent. It does not come from the specimen, although the vines extending from its spinal cord are now taut and attach to something in the dark ether behind the trees. The ropes vibrate with the words, like the twanging of an instrument.
“Wherever you are, come out. We have backup arriving any minute,” Margot verges on trembling.
“It’s not talking to us,” Dachery says, goosebumps popping up along his arms, “it’s talking at us.”
“Accept, palms up to the sun, and rejoice.”
The vibrations turn into pulses of sound, pushing his sweat matted hair on end through an invisible wave of static electricity. A low murmur travels along the grounds, moving in and out, in and out. Like a heartbeat. The sunflower stands on end, inflated. The specimen adjusts its hold on the trees.
“Terra incognita. The Moss Prophet will show the way.”
“Margot,” Dachery says.
His attention shifted from left to right. Each creaking branch and twirl of leaves becoming a threat. He feels the forest watching him. More so, he feels the Ferris Wheel looming in the distance, now a giant ebon spoke against an orange sky. The electric pulses swirl around them. Energy is focusing here, encroaching from the limits of the fairgrounds, crawling with moss gloved skeletal hands up the marshy banks. Their vehicle turns into an island.
“Should I shoot?” Margot says.
“Yes,” Dachery affirms, afraid to look away.
Sounds explodes to his left, dispersing the thick cloud of noise that had invaded and violated the air. The petals on the sunflower fall at once, untethered to the skull. The jawbone plummets back in the abyss. Its torso goes limp, held up by the vine replaced tendons of the forearms. It adjusts itself, headless, clawing the bark for purchase. The vibrations end like the abrupt cease of rain. The echoes fade, morphing into a guttural sound projected at the ends of the specimen’s marionette strings. The voice is high pitched and pluralist; it sounds like the organized effort of a hundred voices, speaking in harmonic timbre from the precipice of the dark.
“This is the correct path. The Moss Prophet knows the way.”
The skeleton loses balance and falls onto the ground. Candy wrappers and cups crinkle under its weight. Beyond the foliage the vines become slack, taught, and slack again. Dachery senses something breathing at the end of those vines. Some primordial force, some beastly evil. It permeates a psychic prodding of dread, and powerful eyes staring at him from the blackness. It is not angry eyes. He was being judged. Dachery starts to make his way across the grounds.
“No,” Margot said, “hell no.”
“Margot, we need to see it.”
“Not with two .22s we don’t,” she stares at Dachery, her brows creases. “I feel it too. That force. Whatever it is. I’m not talking about the surround sound vibrations.”
“Something beyond the trees.”
“Yes. You’re being stupid.” She pulls at his wrist.
“I need to find out,” Dachery says, “that’s why we were called here.”
“We were not called to die. This is bigger than us.”
Dachery unlatches himself. The skeleton emitted a sour smell even from this distance. It is both the scent of rotting vegetables and of decaying flesh. The vines look like umbilical cords. Whatever force that once stares at them and speaks from the undersides of the foliage is no longer there; Dachery is certain that it no longer watches them because of how intense its absence. He needs to find out, to venture across the crumbling skeleton, to step along the dead leaves and wade through the steady heart beats of the chirping crickets. He needs to know something, anything about the Moss Prophet. He needs to stand where the force is, to know that it is true, that it was not some cosmic entity or God. Because what if it is?.
He stops at the click of the .22’s safety. Dachery looks over his shoulder and down the barrel of Margot’s gun. Her hands tremble, eyes red. “If you take another step forward, I will kill you.”
“Margot,” Dachery resists a smile; the situation is so surreal it is sobering. “What are you doing?”
“Do you want to become one of those creatures? Do you want to let whatever monster takes you so the next agents come by can find you popping out of a porto-john? Do you want to be the creature that you were keen on investigating in the first place? Do you want to be a fucking sunflower?”
Dachery bites his lip. He looks over to the darkness, to the crumbling skeleton. Crickets chirp and greenhead flies skate along the marsh. The Ferris Wheel loom, watching them as if it with some great eye. A wind carries along the water, bringing with it the smell of the marsh and mud, sweeping the rotting carcass stench back into the forest.
He stares back at Margot, at the darkness of the pistol. He shakes his head, swears under his breath, and brushes past her, fumbling for a cigarette as he makes his way back to the car. He opens the door and rolls down the window, staring at Margot as she returns the pistol to its holster, breathing with relief. Smoke trails from Dachery’s fingers. The pyre leans, almost limp, over the open window. They stared at one another from across the grounds, separated by the windshield. He gestures for Margot to join him in the car. She chews on the inside of her lip and walked along…
at once a thrush of vines whip like tentacles from the darkness. Like Cthullu, like the Kraken, a great and evil force wraps pensile and thorned vines around Margot, constricting her like a boa. Gunshot sounds as ribs crack, the movements so swift that she does not cry out, only her eyes realizing that she is being lifted off the ground and turned into mush. A vines slithers over her neck, twists, pulls, and Margot goes limp, crucified against the bark of a gnarled tree, a marionette just like the specimen.
Dachery pulls his pistol out of its holster, readies to get out of the car. The forest vibrates again.
The vines tear Margot to pieces, her limbs separating in fireworks of blood and bone. Her body, now fragments of meat, disappears into the darkness of the trees, into the gurgling mess of the Moss Prophet’s abode.
Dachery closes the door, his hands shaking as the marsh creeps to the vehicle. A green silhouette of something humanoid but not human is visible behind a thicket of intertwined branches. Something with one yellow and one purple eye. Not Margot.
A bit of ash from the cigarette falls onto his shirt, snapping him to attention. He starts the car, reverses, speeds through the muddy marsh that looks different from when he came. He travels, alone, underneath the banner for the town faire which is not crusted with splotches of moss. Parked cars looked aged through desolation, furry with writhing lichen and dotted with speckles of yellow and red flowers in full bloom. Already bodies have begun their transformation into the botanical collective; eyes rattle, listless, a content primordial bliss.
Tears sting Dachery’s eyes but he does not wipe them away. His cigarette cradles between his lips, his tongue occasionally lapping against the papery, acrid butt, hardly puffing. He drives onward through the town, aiming to get back to the precinct and warn the others that something, someone is coming. Evacuate the town, evacuate the country. Evacuate Florida!
At the other end of the road, right before town, there is a cavalcade of large, tank-like vehicles. Men in jump suits and gas masks peak out of the backs of these iron hulks, looking around at the marsh, the muggy sky. Sunshine reflects sabers of light from their ruby goggles like they are blinking at Dachery. Police tape has cordoned off the road. Dachery stops at their command.
Someone with a flame thrower and a gas tank strapped to their bag comes over. He asks for Dachery’s ID and Dachery shows him his badge. This relaxes the guard a bit.
“What is going on here?” Dachery asks.
“Some sort of virus,” the man says, his breathing electronic and labored by the mask, “still looking for patient zero.”
Dachery nods. Without a second thought drives past the check points, smashes through the police tape and wooden barriers, burns tire past all the sanitation vehicles that have been set up like little carnival games. There is a crowd of people standing on the sides of the road, dressed in robes, shouting Moss Prophet Cometh, Moss Prophet Cometh, palms up and REJOICE!
And Dachery drives, thinking of the Specimen, thinking of the sunflowers and the Ferris Wheel and the dunk tank. He pulls over on the side of the road, lightheaded and hot, and begins to weep for Margot’s last moments of life.
Twenty minutes later he reaches into his pocket for another cigarette. His wrist turns upward as he flicks the lighter, notices a little dandelion sprouted from his forearm.
Glenn Dungan is currently based in Brooklyn, NYC. He exists within a Venn-diagram of urban design, sociology, and good stories. When not obsessing about one of those three, he can be found at a park drinking black coffee and listening to podcasts about murder.