A short story by Kimberly Chua.
IT STARTED WITH THE ROSES.
They were innocent enough—a fragrant bouquet from the attractive boy who introduced himself as my new neighbour. He knocked on my door, eyes shining the same rich blue as the flowers he held. Summer light bloomed behind him, the bright light flooding into my open doorway and illuminating the normally-shadowed room behind me.
“To attaining the impossible,” he said, grinning contagiously. “To life!”
I spent the night swathed in my colourless blankets, dreaming of bright blue eyes that whispered promises of hope.
A month later, he knocked again, this time carrying a hibiscus. Still in that impossible colour, its five flawless petals encircled a pistil that matched the red of the little scars peeking under his gloves. He seemed flustered, some of that compelling confidence gone.
“Althea,” he said breathlessly, folding the flower into my hand. “These are known as the ‘flowers of Althea.’”
I displayed it with the still-fresh roses on my coffee table and, swaddled in bright-coloured blankets, dreamed of blue eyes that somehow knew my name.
The third time I saw him, he carried a flower of a species I had never seen before.
“Calydon,” he said upon seeing me. “Created just to flourish under your rule.”
An inventor? With his unruly appearance, that wasn’t at all what I had suspected, and yet… the flower, with its layered, square-shaped petals and blood-red stem, was unlike anything I’d ever known.
I accepted it, opening my mouth to ask his name, but he was gone as quickly as he’d arrived.
Every month afterwards, he was at my door bearing another flower created and named for me; Helen, after my mother, then Anima, because I was his “soul and sanity,” and Soleil, because I was “the morning sun and solace.” As the flowers grew more elaborate, however, he seemed to fade before my eyes in snapshots, dulling in comparison to the perfect blue flowers he held. As they overflowed from the original vase of roses and spilled around my living room, casting it in a golden-blue light that smelled of nostalgic summer, the old anticipation of new, precious treasures dimmed with the boy who had made them special.
In June, he came to my door as he usually did, a blue flower in his hand. Once, I would immediately have been drawn into his eyes, but they were no longer captivating. Instead, my gaze flickered over him a little uncomfortably, taking in his dusty hair and slouched posture. Where that careless pose might previously have come across as fashionable, with his muted pallor and the way his still-bright clothes hung from his figure, he just looked… wrong. His long sleeves were patterned with a kind of ombre, strokes of red twining up his forearms and diffusing into grey; the bright colour blended seamlessly into the red stalk of the flower and was harsh against the vivid petals. Today, the petals were arranged in a geometric pattern through more dimensions than I could count or comprehend, layering and fitting together in the way the grey boy and I no longer did; a juxtaposition as obvious and obscene as the deep red and bright blue of his sleeves, the stalk, and the flower. I found it hard to force my eyes back to his—nearly as hard as I found it to speak when he stood in my doorway.
“Althea,” he said, his voice still sultry and deep. A ghost of a smirk wormed its way onto his drawn face. “This is Gilda. Happy birthday—she is my gift to you. My sacrifice. My labour of love.”
His words seemed to run together like the red on his sleeves. Happy birthday, I thought. Gift. His sacrifice. And those thoughts were followed by, What will my sacrifice be?
Every month, he seemed more deadened, as though life had been sucked straight from him and into those gorgeous flowers. Unable to smile—smiling at him had become exponentially difficult in the recent months—I bared my teeth in a sort of grimace; a parody of a smile, just as this grey boy was a parody of the enthralling boy he had once been.
I took the flower and tossed it into one of the many vases in my living room. It seemed to stare at me, its red, red pistil pointing at me like an eye. Hunching my shoulders, I left the room to surround myself with soft and worn blankets. Next time, I told myself, resolving to speak to him; first to ask his name, then to find out why his eyes had become sad and empty.
The last time I saw him, he was pale, and shadows bruised his under-eyes. His hands were bare—for the first time since he’d first appeared—revealing deep scratches on his fingertips that coiled up his arms, shoulders, and neck, then grew over his hollow cheekbones like ivy. He looked sickly, diminutive in my low doorway, and all intention of speaking to him flew from my mind in fear that he would break in front of me.
“Please,” he said, pressing the flower into my palm and leaving, shoulders hunched to his ears. An “I’m sorry” floated behind him, nearly torn away by the raging wind. The stalk of the flower was dry against my skin, the petals papery.
Please joined the other flowers in their vases, all in a now-meaningless blue.
At night, with my threadbare and wash-faded blankets restlessly flung about my feet, I dreamed of blue eyes that had faded into mournful grey. Next time, I promised. Next time.
But then next month came and went, and he didn’t come—perhaps he’d fallen ill, the shaky paleness a symptom of his sickness. Perhaps the following month, he’d be the boy I missed so desperately, instead of the shadow he’d become.
November passed too, though, and still no grey boy came bearing blue flowers for a bouquet finally beginning to wilt.
December arrived, and by then, the flowers drooped down to the tabletop, rot-brown tarnishing that once-special blue. I threw the flowers away.
Or tried to. Looking closer, I saw that the stems had grown through the many vases scattered around the room, sewing them down with red roots of unbreakable silk. Panicking, I used every sharp item at my disposal in my attempt to saw through those indestructible threads, breaking the vases in the process. Freed from their confines, the flowers spread out, veins of red creeping down the arms of my furniture and into the ground like the scars on those of the grey boy. What had been a distant worry flowered into an obsessive paranoia accompanied by dead flowers that refused to go away. No longer dreaming, I stared at the dead flowers, wide awake and restless.
What were they plotting?
A once-sweet scent became cloying and suffocating, and when I emerged to ask, no one knew why buds of sublime blue on stalks of blood-red had begun to bloom in their yards except that they were more than welcome in this dreary season! My inquiries of the boy-who-knew-everything—the one who moved in three years ago?—were met with confused head shakes and I don’t know who you mean and no one new has come to town.
When I lay down seeking rest, insomnia chained my eyes open, forcing me to stare and listen. “Althea,” the dead flowers murmured, dulcet tones nauseating through my blankets of shadow and nightmare-marred dreams. “His creation. His life. Your sanity. Your soul. Our cure. Your cure.”
Kimberly Chua is a high school student who enjoys writing Gothic and Romanticism-inspired speculative fiction. She currently resides in Missouri, USA.
This is the revised version of a story that originally appeared as a part of Brink Literacy’s Dually Noted Project.