It’s the start of a brand new year – 2020 – and I’ve already thrown myself back into my writing routine and started ticking off my goals. One new story has been submitted to a publisher and another is languishing in the wings, waiting to be polished.
I attended my informal writing group last night, “Writer’s Table,” where our story prompt was:
- genre – horror
- associated word – sunflower
As is usual for me I feel like my attempt has strayed more into the weird and the dark, rather than full-on horror, but it’s a short little bodyshock tale exploring how we make difficult choices.
This story is copyright. Except for the purpose of fair review, no part may be stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including recording or storage in any information retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. No reproduction may be made, by any means, unless a licence has been obtained from the author or publisher. ©️ Tabatha Wood 2020
It started as a road trip. A spontaneous adventure. We took the highway north, away from the city. Drove for hours until we reached the dusty backroads that led down to the farm. In hindsight I should have realised. She’d planned this all along.
I see the sea of yellow as we crest the hill; a golden haze spread across the horizon, in stark contrast with the piercing blue sky. Her smile lights up her face as brightly as the flowers ahead of us. She claps her hands in glee.
“Look, William! Isn’t it beautiful?”
I scoff and sigh.
“You knew this was here didn’t you?”
She turns to me, wide-eyed, her face a picture of faux-innocence, and then laughs. The crows feet crinkle around her eyes, but her pupils sparkle like a child’s.
“You could have just told me this was where you wanted to come.”
“But then it wouldn’t have been a surprise.”
I stop the car at the edge of the field but leave the engine idling. I was surprised all right. But I shouldn’t have been. I should have guessed. Sunflowers had always been her favourite. They were our wedding flower too.
“Are you coming?” She asks. “We’ve travelled a long way.”
I don’t want to look at her.
“Come on,” she insists. “At least take a photo of me by the field?” She tosses her smartphone in my lap and opens the passenger door. I wait until she exits, thinking, before I kill the ignition and follow her. Her long, white hair glows in the sunlight. She moves slowly but determinedly, with a dancer’s grace. I call out to her and my voice carries on the breeze.
“Ciara, you do know what they say about this place?”
She turns and giggles.
“Of course! Thus the basis of its appeal.”
“You believe it then?”
She stops and turns, fixing me in a steely gaze.
“Does it matter what I believe?”
I shrug. I really don’t know.
She continues walking until she reaches the nearest bloom, and her fingertips graze the thick stem. A single petal flutters from its flower head and lands on the top of hers. She doesn’t notice. My stomach lurches, I feel the sudden urge to pluck it from her. I don’t want it touching her.
She moves further down the row, trailing her hands through the yellow storm. More petals shudder free and follow her like bright, dangerous confetti.
“They say that they have power, don’t they?” She says quietly; so quietly I’m not even certain she’s really talking to me. “That they harness magic from the sun. Their seeds are supposed to contain pure radiance. One taste, and you can blossom too. Be beautiful like they are.”
Panic fills my throat and a cold blush paints my face.
“You’re beautiful already, Ciara.” I say loudly, hearing the tremble in my words. “Come away.” But she doesn’t want to listen.
“Yes,” she muses. “Perhaps to you I am. But for how long, William? How long?”
“Always.” I say. “Whatever happens.” It’s her turn to scoff.
“You and I know that’s not true. The disease will win. It always does. It’s only a matter of time.” She caresses the flowers. Fondles their leaves. “Will you still love me when I am bald? When my skin is covered in lesions and sores? Will you still want me when my eyes turn dull and all I can do is sleep?”
I go to answer, but she’s not finished.
“Will you still find me desirable when you’re wiping my arse, and cleaning strings of drool from my chin?”
She spins; a ballet dancer’s pirouette. The sunflowers’ dark faces follow her. My blood freezes. They’ve seen her.
She shakes her head. “No. I don’t want that any more than you do.”
She reaches for the nearest flower and removes a single black-striped pod. I break into awkward run.
“Stop! Ciara! Please, don’t do this!”
She moves inside the wall of stems and takes her place beside them.
“You picked me once, one summer. You crossed that crowded dance-floor when we were both so very young. Your first words to me were, “God, you’re pretty.” I’d never been told that before.
“We danced that night, and all nights after. We’ve seen so many seasons since. You call me your “little flower”. Tell me, William, would you pick me all over again?”
She puts her fingers to her lips, shuts her eyes and swallows the seed.
Her body stiffens, her back pulls poker-straight. She tucks her elbows to her sides and outstretches both her hands. Her head falls back, her face to the sun. Clumps of her hair begin to fall; pale, gossamer strands at her feet. I scream as the petals begin to sprout — yellow arrow-heads burst from her cheeks. She shrinks and twists, as her flesh is consumed. Her eyes turn solid black. My vision swims with the weight of my tears. I can’t bear to watch any more.
As the sky grows grey and the sun falls away, I sit with my back to the fields. There’s a seed in my palm, as heavy as stone. As heavy as the choice I must make.
I’ll wait until dawn to decide.
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