Copyright (c) 2016 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
Hank stumbled in his sleep and was caught by a nightmare. Once again, he was six-years old and running through Motha Forest. Each path led to a thatched house hidden in a foggy hollow. It was where the witch lived. “That woman is evil, sure as the moon walks at night,” his Paris-born mother had warned. “Don’t you ever go near where that Fille-de-la-nuit stirs her vile concoctions!”
Hank’s feet refused to obey him and he staggered down the stone path to the dark dwelling.
Melania’s house looked like a black fairy tale. Thorn covered black rose bushes guarded each side of an intricately carved passageway sunken in mortised river-stone. Hank’s right hand was as disobedient as his feet as it lifted a heavy gargoyle knocker against his will and let the grinning cast-iron monster fall with a boom on the heavy oak door.
Melania wore the same flower-print dress and white canvas gloves Hank had seen her wear when she weeded her flower gardens. A cloud of greenish vapors escaped from a dark chamber as she took his hand and pulled him inside. “I thought you would never arrive!” She pointed. “Your protectors were too hungry to wait any longer.”
King and Fritz sat on chairs as though they were people, rather than dogs, and lapped liquid from dishes covering a banquet-sized table, although the two massive hounds wouldn’t be born for another seventy-eight years.
“I’m sure there will be plenty, although you must wait a little longer.”
Hank sat between the dogs and lifted a spoon just as something from above splashed into his bowl. His gently swinging mother hung by her feet from heavy beams crossing the ceiling. Blood dripped from a jagged tear in her throat. “I told you not to come,” she moaned.
Hank was out of bed and was half-way to the front door wearing only a pair of yellowed mail-order Long Johns from Sears and Roebuck Company before he realized it was just a dream.
Hank knew it was only a nightmare but he threw open the front door anyway. The farm house felt stifling like the inside of a tomb. Hank heard the frantic mooing of all three milk cows at the same time that he felt something wrap around his bare ankles. The plant material binding his feet was nothing more than long stems and leaves, probably blown by a gust of wind, although the plants looked new and not the dry and withered corn-stalks in last year’s garden spot.
He looked toward the barn in time to see one cow impossibly disappearing into the night sky and another being lifted off the ground by a beam of bluish green light. The bellowing Holstein ascended until it vanished into a lit-from-within cloud obscuring the stars above the north pasture. Hank kicked frantically at the plant material around his legs. He wasn’t about to let anyone or anything steal his livestock … he’d think about the how later. His legs came free a moment before he felt something wrap around his neck. The same long thin leaves and stems were cutting off his air supply. First one then another corn-stock walking upright on legs made of tangled roots stepped from the shadows of the barn. Suddenly the whole farm yard was covered with creeping plants and slithering vines.
Hank used both hands to tear the choking fibers from around his throat. On the roof of the farm house, another corn plant gripped the wooden shingles and hung off the edge as it lowered more stems and leaves. Hank turned and leaped into the house and slammed the door just as the plant behind him tried to force its way inside. The master entry-lock below the knob hadn’t been used for years. Hank hoped it would hold as he ran to the kitchen window and peered outside. The hellish garden crop was not ramming and pounding on the door trying to break it down. Instead, thin quickly growing bean tendrils seeped into every crack and began to tear boards loose from the house.
Hank remembered a new type of herbicide called 2-4-D he’d left on the back porch. The broken window he’d meant to fix was now an entryway for creeping bean stalks growing at a fantastic rate as he seized the three gallon metal sprayer and ran back into the kitchen. The can felt about half full. Charles Simmons the farm agent in Cloverdale had warned him the new chemical, issued to farmers on a trial basis, killed everything but grass. “I hope you’re right Charlie!” Hank yelled as he pumped air pressure into the tank.
The living room window shattered and green peas like ammunition fired from a scattergun struck the far wall and began to bounce across the wooden floor planks. Hank hadn’t cleaned the house for months. Each time a pea found its way into soil between the warped boards it began to grow.
Hank stomped barefoot on as many rolling pea seeds as he could find and then turned the sprayer on a seedling already more than a foot tall and sending exploratory vines through the kitchen cabinets. Spilled salt, pepper and Bob’s Red Mill baking soda littered the counter top. The dripping plant took forever to stop growing. Finally it twisted and spun making a sound like steam escaping from a tea kettle as it dropped a bag of Old Hill Side Pipe Tobacco and crumbled like a pile of cooked vegetables onto the floor. The spray can was almost empty. Rusty nails were sliding out of the hinges as expanding green stems pushed on the door from the outside.
Hank reached for a sixteen-gage Winchester 1910 double-barrel hanging on two pegs behind the woodstove. He searched but couldn’t find more than a handful of shells for the shotgun. It would not be enough.
The first blast sent two charging corn plants spraying off the porch like chunks from a corn silage chopper chute. The pigs had been worked into a hysterical fury, flying around the pen like wasps caught in a jar. An army of green plants marched steadily toward the farm house in rows, skirting wide around the outside of the enclosure and ignoring the screaming gourmands.
Light from a waning moon showed a huge knobby spud as big as a truck uprooted and pulsing on top of the blasted soil like an enormous garden slug. Long tentacle-like stolons stretched forth in all directions like spokes from an alien wagon-wheel. Corn, peas and beans marched in the directions the vines pointed. If there was a mind behind this vegetal madness and assault it was this potato.
Hank used the remaining shells to blast the giant potato twice and then again after re-loading. White dripping mash spread across the un-mowed lawn, but the giant tuber seemed only slightly damaged. Hank threw the empty gun at three charging bean plants right before he vaulted toward his car … of course the battery was dead. Grasping stems and leaves wrapped around his neck and hands like herbal fingers as he turned the crank on the front of the 1936 Oldsmobile. The engine roared to life just as he was about to lose consciousness and spun peas in all directions as the murderous vines caught in the crank shaft.
For a moment Hank thought he might actually get away. Spinning tires shot plumes of dust in the air as he made a wide circle in the farm yard and shot toward the highway. A rickety bridge crossed an irrigation canal just before the gravel road and vines had woven together like a giant spider web to block his escape. The speeding vehicle broke through the first strands of vegetable matter but slowed as vine upon vine slowly brought the car to a halt. Green leaves covered the windows and finally the air vents. He heard familiar voices … the last words spoken between him and Lewis before his son went to France.
“You take care of yourself in Europe … life is cheaper there than it is in the states.”
“I’ll be careful … you make sure you’re still plowing, cussing and planting when I return!”
Hank was losing consciousness as darkness descended upon him, so he didn’t know if the voices came from inside … or from without.
A hand rested on his shoulder and shook him gently. Hank opened his eyes hoping without hope that the events of the day before had been just another nightmare. The witch Melania stared down at him from the open car door. “You!” Hank lurched backward against the passenger door. “I knew you had to be behind this!”
Melania’s eyes swept across the deteriorating farm yard where mutated plants hung on fence-posts and against sheds in an unearthly stillness. “This is not my bag of tricks,” she said. “I was awakened from a delightful dream to travel here to help you.”
“I didn’t ask you to come here,” Hank stammered. “Go away! Leave me alone and stop your bewitching”
“I was summoned by your extraordinary son, Lewis,” Melania said and then added with a slight degree of indignation, “… such a sweet sprout to come from such a vile and twisted stump.”
Hank stared across the farm yard at the now idle plant monsters. A black carriage with two horses was parked in his apple orchard. “Either you’ve had a change of heart or your horrible bottle of black magic has leaked itself out of poison!”
“There is nothing horrible or black about what I do,” Melania said. “Magic is only knowledge that others don’t have.”
“Then why are these enchanted plants that were ready to kill me only an hour ago, now frozen on a fifty-degree night?”
“Enchanted is not the correct term,” Melania said gazing up at the stars in the sky. “Otherworldly life forms would be a more appropriate description.”
“Go away and leave me alone!” Hank opened the passenger door and began to climb out.
“Stay where you are!” Melania insisted. “These alien tainted offshoots are only sleeping. Any movement on your part might awaken one … and then the entire crop will become hungry.”
“Sleep?” Hank was angry. “Plants don’t sleep!”
“All living things sleep,” Melania said glancing at a watch hanging from a tiny chain around her neck. “Without a pair of tired eyes to slowly close or a tattered snore … people don’t notice.”
“What do you plan to do?”
“Wait!” Melania said. “Your two best friends are at this moment bringing help!”
“I don’t have any best friends … not for over twenty years,’ Hank grumbled.
“King and Fritz would disagree with that statement.” Melania pointed toward the gravel road where a cloud of dust could be seen in the early morning light followed by the noisy grunts and squeals as two dogs herded a mass of running swine. “Your best friends were scratching at my door the same time that Lewis appeared. I sent them to round up a herd of hungry pigs from the outlying farms.”
“You can talk to animals?” Hank put his head in his hands. “I knew it … you have to be a witch.”
“Most people talk to their pets!” Melania was walking toward the pig pen as the squealing herd approached. “What they don’t do is listen. All animals have their own language and different ways of communicating.”
Melania opened the gate on the pen just as over three-hundred pigs thundered into the farm yard. Hank’s eight remaining swine quickly joined the others. The plants began to awaken and the barnyard was filled with the sounds of bloody battle. “Pigs are omnivores,” Melania said as she climbed into the Oldsmobile and closed the door. “These are very hungry and they can eat just about anything including wood, glass, tin cans and the tires on your car.”
They watched as the squealing and grunting herd finished off all the plants and then moved in on the large potato in the middle of the garden. In less than twenty minutes it was all over. King and Fritz once more drove the herd down the road.
“Where are they going?” Hank jumped from the car calling the dogs.
“They’ll be back,” Melania said. “They have to return the pigs to the people who own them.” She looked over the yard where not even a stem or leaf remained. “Each of those animals must have eaten at least twenty pounds of greens. That should save the farmers money on feed.”
The sun was just rising over the eastern horizon. “I’m sorry I tried to run you off,’ Hank hung his head and stammered. “I grew up being told you were evil and I never believed otherwise.”
“I’ve done many things that I’ll never confess to,” Melania laughed as she walked toward the wagon. “The world and everything in it is always in balance.”
“I don’t suppose I’ll ever see my cows again,” Hank wiped his head with one Long John shirt sleeve.
“They were not stolen,” Melania gazed at the fading stars and seemed to be listening to sounds only she could hear. “Keeper and his intergalactic crew, although reckless at times, are not thieves. I’m sure your garden-grown monsters were only an accident of radiation. Your cows were only borrowed for a while … like I did your neighbors’ pigs. For what reason is not part of this story. They should be back in the barn where they belong … by lunch time.”
“You said you spoke to Lewis!” Hank’s eyes lit up for the first time in months. “Where is he? I’d like to see him.”
“He’s close enough that you can hear his heart beating if you listen,” Melania called over her shoulder as she quickened her pace. “To see him … you have to look for what isn’t there.”
“It’s more than six miles back to town and you drove out here in a wagon!” Hank looked at the aged woman with new respect. “I thank you for what you did.”
“I’ve been thinking of trading these old plugs in for something faster and with more spark,” Melania said as she took the reins, “perhaps one of those new Buicks that can cut through these cold winter nights like skates on ice.”
Hank watched the witch rumble down the road and then did his morning chores. After lunch, he checked on the cows. All three Holsteins were back in the barn just like Melania said. The afternoon sun was hot for mid-June. Hank sat on the porch with a glass of lemonade and thought about buying more seed and about what the witch had told him. The woman talked in riddles for sure.
The glass was almost empty when a cloud of dust rose in the distance from the gravel road. At first Hank thought perhaps Melania was returning, but the vehicle was moving too fast to be a wagon. He recognized the dark blue Ford sedan from Cloverdale as Sheriff Walker and a deputy exited the vehicle. They both took off their hats as they reluctantly approached the porch.
There could be only one reason for the visit … Lewis!
Hank tried to look for things that were not there as he climbed from the porch, swallowed hard and walked out to meet them.