The snow had just started to recede when the first green stalk appeared from the middle of the lawn. It was unlike anything either of us had ever seen, and our two children – Katey and Lana – were equally fascinated.
It was thick, much thicker than a stalk of celery, and it felt solid. Matt tried to pull it out of the lawn, despite the insistence from the girls, but it wouldn’t budge. He grunted, planted his feet, wrapped his big hands around the stalk and pulled.
But it didn’t move.
The next day it was twice as high. And almost twice as thick.
The third day we started measuring. But by then, there were more of them, popping up all over the lawn. The kids were fascinated. Matt was worried.
“The lawnmower’s not going to cut through those stalks,” he whispered one early evening. “How are we ever going to get our green lawn back?”
“It’ll be fine,” I reassured him. “If not, we can always call the ChemLawn company. I’m sure they’ll know what to do. Besides the girls are thrilled to be watching it grow.”
He let out a deep sigh. “You’re right. I guess if they’re happy a green lawn doesn’t really matter.” Though he did eye our neighbor’s longingly.
The stalks stopped growing on the sixth day. On the seventh, beautiful brightly colored buds sprouted. They were bigger than my fist, bigger than a softball and almost as big as a watermelon. For a few days, those buds stayed tightly closed.
I ran into Janice at the grocery store on the eighth day. “Marie,” she called in her singsongy voice, “what are you growing in your front yard? They’re so… impressive.”
Now if you’d heard that from anyone but Janice, you’d actually puff your chest out a little and be proud. But Janice has a different way of saying words. The kind that make you scowl when she sounded pleasant, and laugh when she sounded terrible.
I couldn’t help but shrink a little. “You know, Janice, I really don’t know what they are. They’re a mystery. They’ve just come out of the ground, and rightfully quick too. Matt is worried because the lawnmower is just not strong enough to take them down. But we certainly didn’t plant anything.”
My voice came out a little accusatory and my words were spoken too fast. She knew I was nervous.
“Well, then I guess I’ll tell the council that you didn’t plant anything.”
I frowned. I hated that we lived in a gated community that could tell us what to do with our own land. It frustrated me to no end, and Janice always found a way to remind me of the pact I had signed out of pure desperation.
“I’m sure Matt’s calling ChemLawn right now, to find out what we should do about the lawn.”
“I sure do hope so. We don’t want to have to set an example, if you know what I mean.”
I scowled. “I’m sure you don’t, Janice.”
Then I paid the bill and turned my back, indicating that I was done with our little conversation.
When I got home, there were cars and people surrounding my home. I held my breath, waiting for the onslaught of onlookers to start yelling at me. But to my surprise, they stood captivated.
As I stepped onto the patio overlooking my own front lawn, two paper grocery bags in hand, my own breath was taken away. I watched, as one of the buds slowly, and tantalizingly opened.
The colors of the petals were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It was like a creamy, swirly, orangey hue, but each petal looked like a mix of fire and an orange creamscicle. The inside looked like fingers. Fingers that your mother used to stroke your forehead gently before you fell asleep. Fingers that would caress the softest skin on your body.
I almost found myself walking forward just to touch one.
But then Matt’s voice whispered in my ear, “Come inside, sweetie.” And he took the grocery bags from my hands.
Inside I realized I was shaking. What was going on? Those flowers weren’t anything I’d heard, seen or read about before. I went for my computer.
“Mom, don’t bother,” Katey told me. She looked at me tearfully.
“Don’t bother what?” I asked, feigning innocence. Clearly something had happened, and I wasn’t privy to the information.
“They’re dangerous. And they’re new. Like new, new.”
“What do you mean they’re dangerous?” I asked. “And they’re just being discovered now? In our lawn?”
Lana moaned on the couch. I hadn’t noticed her there, but her guttural sounds made me wince. “Lana? Honey?”
I walked over and was unprepared for what I saw. She was laying on the couch, covered in blood. Her jeans were torn, her t-shirt ripped off, showing her teenage belly. “Lana! Oh my gosh! Are you alright? What happened?”
I started crying. She was crying.
Katey brought over a warm towel. She kept wiping the blood off her sister, but she didn’t say a word. When I noticed that Lana wasn’t apparently the one hurt, I relaxed just a little.
“Lana? What happened?”
She looked at me, her big brown eyes soft and red. “It was Kale. He was here when the first bud opened. He was walking up the steps, and it was so close. When he saw it open, he reached inside and-”
She dissolved into tears. I hugged her tight. Then I realized she was clenching something in her hand.
“Lana? What’s in your hand?”
Katey leaned in close to whisper in my ear. “All that’s left of him.”