This is Part Two of the Strange Fruit story I started releasing yesterday. If you haven’t read Part One I urge you to do so!
Welcome back to Mean for the Holidays. Week Two has (unofficially) begun! I have a whole load of goodness for you this week, more stories, more poetry, and more surprises await. Christmas is right around the corner and I’m excited to get to presents and a day with my family filled with joy and love.
But before all of that, enjoy part two of Strange Fruit.
Two days later, Sienna and I confirmed together that the statue was looking towards my bedroom as we were taking care of our usual pruning tasks. I didn’t want to think my dad moved it, and I especially didn’t want to consider it having moved on its own. The idea was illogical. There was no evidence otherwise, though. The best I could do was believe it had always been looking towards my room.
My dad took to sitting outside with us and directing our work after that, telling us where to snip vines and where to focus our watering. When we finished, I could hear him at night crying himself to sleep and apologizing to my mom for not being able to take care of the garden like he used to.
We caught the attention of our next door neighbor who took a moment to smile and wave before returning inside. My father carrying a disgusted look on his face as she stepped away. After asking him about it he only told me
“She thinks she knows what a gardener does.”
Didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t today.
Well, after we finished for the day Sienna and I went out for dinner, at the restaurant we barely received our food when I got a notification on my phone, our security system picked up movement inside our backyard. I knew my dad was home, but night had fallen, and it was likely he went to bed, so we bailed on dinner and rushed home. On the footage, we saw a tall man rooting through the garden, looking for something. As we pulled up, we saw him hope the fence and take off down the street.
The gangly figure ran away from our vehicle as we pulled up. A tattered jacket and pants covered thin, long limbs. Like a spider who missing half its legs, he stretched his legs his way away from the house and ignored my shouting. We went through the house and couldn’t find my dad anywhere. When we did, we found him out back in the garden, covering up a small hole with dirt and mumbling to himself.
“If he finds out, I’ll have to be planted elsewhere. I won’t get to come home again.”
I startled him when I approached, and he swung the trowel, hitting me in the arm and leaving a scratch. He ripped his bandages to shreds and he was looking around the yard, frantic.
“Did you see him?”
I nodded, and lifted him up, getting him back inside where I convinced him I’d call the police. Sienna cleaned up his wounds. On one hand, where his bandages fell away, there were a few rows of little stickers or grains embedded into his bare flesh. His hands were bleeding profusely, and we knew we needed to get him to a hospital again after we tried to wrap his hands and stop the blood. Nothing helped. He sat in the chair muttering about the gardener and praying he would be okay.
We got back to the hospital in a hurry and rushed him into the ER, on the way Sienna tried to pluck out one of the seeds and as she did my dad started screaming, telling us it hurt so bad and he wanted to be back in the garden again.
His obsession with his bushes threatened to prevent a hospital trip, and he wouldn’t listen to a word I said so I just stopped speaking. We practically had to drag him into the car to take him to the hospital. The doctors looked at his hands and pulled out the grains, offering him a sedative after he wouldn’t halt his dramatic screaming. His doctor took a few pictures to show me. It looked like my dad’s fingertips were tiny bloody strawberries. These little seeds stuck into his skin. They pulsated and swelled. The doctors had a hell of a time removing them, despite only piercing the first few layers of skin. It didn’t look any worse than a prickle bush stuck in there but if you had heard my father, you would have believed they were taking bullets out with pliers.
I called the police while the seeds were being removed and they told me they couldn’t do much besides send a patrol car to inspect the area. I took it and made a note to file an official report the next morning. The intruder didn’t seem to have gotten inside and if they had, I thought my dad would have said something. Of course, he was more focused on the seeds inside his fingers at the time, so he might not have noticed.
While the doctors worked, I stayed in the waiting room with Sienna, talking to her about the craziness of the whole situation.
“I think you should tell your dad to kick rocks.”
“Hardly, how do you think he will react?”
I couldn’t bear to. The last few nights had been crazy, but coincidences are crazy. The statue hadn’t moved, and the things stuck in my dad’s fingers were simply thorns. weak flesh, whatever. I justified it.
So I waved her off for the time being and told her I’d talk about it later. Around the same time, the doctor came out with a small dish with a bit of blood inside. He knelt next to us, his look of astonishment obvious to everyone else in the room as he whispered in my ear.
“Do you see this, Mr. Raleigh?” He swiveled the dish around, allowing the blood to soak into the seeds and cover them. “Do you see what is happening?”
I watched, Sienna watched, and we were both silent as the tiny seeds previously embedded in my father’s fingers began to grow into tiny plants in the dish. Soaking up the blood quickly they grew small trunks and bloomed dark green leaves and when they soaked up all the blood they remained in place and died a few seconds afterward.
“What is this?”
I asked as if the doctor would know, He was looking at as much of a mystery as me. I could hardly believe it.
“This was what your father had stuck inside his fingers. It wasn’t hard to remove them, but this is remarkable. We’ve kept the remaining seeds and dried them to the best of our availability. I’ve never seen something like this.”
Neither had I, and a familiar shiver ran up my spine as we all stood and returned to my father’s room.
I tried to question him briefly about the seeds, but he didn’t answer through the haze of a deep slumber. The nurse explained that he fell to sleep after the procedure. A non-medicated sleep, to boot, he was simply out of energy. I stopped trying when Dr. Keith came back into the room with a small clear bag with a few of the seeds bouncing around.
“I have a friend in Botanical Studies over at the college, would you mind if I sent a sample of these to him?”
I didn’t mind, I wanted to know what they were more than the doctors did.
Sienna and I ended up going home afterward and sleeping at home while my dad recovered. The next morning I saw it again.
The statue moved once more.
I didn’t see it until I cleaned out the water to clean the basin and replace the filter system. After I finished the job I turned it back on and noticed the stream of water falling from the small vase shifted slightly. A small patch eroded into the stone basin from where the water would splash off before falling into the pond and the vase was no longer pouring the water on the same spot. It moved a good two inches to the left. The statue looked the same and in disbelief, I inspected it up and down. All the fixtures looked to be in place. So I made a note of it and took a picture of the changed stream. I didn’t have anything to base it off, but I figured it would help me adjust it later.
Frustrated with the rapid growth of the garden, I called Mrs. Peabody and invited her over for lunch and to hopefully teach me a bit about gardening that afternoon. She got there and when we finished lunch, we were standing in the garden and she marveled at the sheer amount of undergrowth the bushes were producing.
“This isn’t like anything I have ever seen.” She plucked vines from the ground and dropped them, looking over their structure. Intertwined across the soil, like a net cast beneath the bushes. “They are like roots growing above the earth. There are so many. You’re telling me you prune all this every day?”
“Every other day. Yeah.”
Her look of surprise caught me off guard.
“What does your father have you doing to this garden? Are you using growth aid chemicals? Unique watering habits? These are the healthiest plants I’ve ever seen.”
I shared my father’s regimen for the garden and she looked it over, coming to the decision that his daily ritual was a preventative measure to keep the growth at bay.
“The only thing I can see is, little old these plants will choke themselves if they grow out of control. You see those vines?”
She pointed beneath one of the bushes and moved the leaves and branches out of the way. The main stalk of the bush wrapped up in layers of vines two or three rows thick. They spiraled up the stalk and rested on branches more than halfway up the bush itself.
“That’s the kind of thing you’d find in the jungle. To top it off, there is already fruit growing here.” She pointed to another, and there hidden behind a patch of leaves she found a small orange and pink fruit. She cracked it open and peeled the two halves apart.
It contained bright pink flesh, white at the edges almost like a watermelon. Densely packed and filled with small pockets. The pit cradled a large black seed, surrounded by the same smaller seeds I had seen my father’s fingertips. Around them there were small tendrils, wiggling gently. They came out from the pit of the fruit and reached towards the other end, trying to reconnect with their opposite side. Mrs. Peabody held it up for me to see and I looked, panic grabbing me as soon as I noticed the seeds.
Thankfully, she was wearing gloves.
She ran a finger along the pit and we marveled at the tendrils, they responded to her touch and tried to reach out for her. The flesh of the fruit producing a translucent dark red liquid. The nectar was extremely sticky, and Mrs. Peabody took a moment to glance at it before placing the cracked fruit back into the earth, burying it face down in the soil.
“I’ve never seen that before, Nick. What did your father say these were?”
“I couldn’t tell you.”
She departed a moment afterward, recommending I call her if I have any further problems with the garden. She wanted me to talk to my dad about the fruit too, which was a given. My first priority was a conversation with my father. I can still see those tiny tendrils reaching out for Mrs. Peabody’s glove, trying to touch it. Twitching in the air like it took all of their might to stand on their own.
After returning indoors, I avoided my care of the garden that day intentionally. I wanted to experiment. To see if it really would kill itself without all the maintenance.
Sienna came over and we laid around for a while before I got a phone call. Dr. Keith’s friend from the college called with some news regarding those seeds. They absorbed blood and did so quickly, swelling and blooming. Dr. Keith offered up some from a recent donor, under the table, for the lab to experiment with and they emailed me a collection of photos which proved what they were saying.
They managed to maintain a single plant, which bloomed in the pool of blood. After reaching a certain point, he remarked, all the plants would stop consuming and rest within it only feeding when necessary. He called them botanical vampires. The concept wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to the world of nature, but it was striking that they would only react as such to the presence of blood.
We finished speaking and I hung up to relay the information to Sienna who told me once more to reject the garden while my dad was in the hospital. I still didn’t want to; my desire for the new chores to end eclipsed by my curiosity.
It took a while, but I talked her into coming with me to deliver a sample of the fruit to the lab. On our way, Dr. Keith called us and told us to get there as soon as possible. Pops continued talking nonsense and the doctor explained that something was wrong with his hands. As much as I wanted to drop off the fruit, I needed to be with my dad.
When we got to the hospital, I saw firsthand what the doctor explained. My dad begged the nurses and the doctors to let him go back to his garden, telling them he needed to water his fruit. He made all kinds of complaints without realizing his fingers turned blue. They were swollen and looked to be terribly bruised. The knuckles had trouble bending and the blue tint to his skin had begun working its way up to his wrists.
“I don’t know what happened. It is like this swelling expanded overnight. We weren’t expecting it. I wanted you to be here, to see if you could calm him down while we get our team together. There is a chance he is going to lose his hands if we can’t stop the spreading of this infection.”
I looked once more, and couldn’t see any signs. Not until I got close. On the exposed bits of his fingertips where he had sliced, jet black flesh protruded from his skin. Cracks filled with puss decorated the tips of my father’s fingers and I stared at them for a long time.
I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t have come up with an answer anyway, but my dad chose to answer for me.
“Nick. Tell these people to cut off my hands.” His explosive screaming halted when he saw me, and he returned to his somber and cold self as soon as I reached the side of his bed.
“I suppose,” I looked towards Dr. Keith. “Cut off his hands?”
Thank you for spending time here today, I’ve loved getting to do this for you. If you’ve missed any of the Mean for the Holidays content be sure to check out the Salt + Iron website or check below for links to some of the most recent stuff!
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