Chuck’s Challenge of the week: The Stock Photo challenge.
Mine is the photo you see below. The story follows. I fear the end is a little abrupt, but it was really tough keeping this one from running away with me. You know. Like kudzu growing out of control.
“Hey, Hoskins, leave ‘im alone,” Nelson said.
Hoskins broke off sprinkling water on Green’s head and guffawed loudly; the pun never got old.
Green2378 ruffled his foliage and turned to the men slowly, the way all Greens do, and regarded them indifferently. A Green can’t look at you–not really–but it’s still disconcerting to feel those eyeless stalks straining in your direction. His (all Greens are considered male; Dr. Feingarten, who created the Proto-Greens, could not abide calling them “it”s and never thought to call them “she”s) thin, sinewy dendritic appendages stretched out toward Hoskins.
Green2378 only wanted to communicate, but Hoskins pulled away with a jerk, tripping over his feet and spilling coffee on his rumpled shirtfront. Nelson laughed and held out a hand, allowing Green’s thin spiraling vine-hands to rope around his fingers and slide across his palm. Hoskins felt his stomach turn just watching, but Nelson suppressed a girlish giggle.
“How can you let that thing touch you?” Hoskins asked.
“It tickles,” Nelson said simply. “Kinda like holding a snake. Or maybe a lot of snakes.”
“Creeps me out.”
Nelson shook his head and thought into his fingers, the way the Committee on Green-Human Relations had recommended. “He means no harm, Greenie.”
Green2378 twitched his encephalic bundle, and his leaves quaked with understanding. His vines traced a graceful pattern on Nelson’s hand and Nelson heard a tiny whisper in his head: friends?
Nelson grinned and spoke aloud, folding his other hand over the first and allowing the vines to encircle them both. “Yeah. He’s a friend.”
Hoskins’s face twisted. “I ain’t that thing’s friend.”
“Oh, lighten up. No, not you, Green.”
Hoskins shook his head. “Crime against nature, you ask me. It’s bad enough they walk and talk. Why do they have to cram them into suits?”
Nelson assumed that know-it-all tone he reserved for talking about economic trends and inflation fluctuations. “Studies show that people react more favorably to the Greens when they appear more human.”
Green2378 appeared to be looking back and forth between the two of them. His stalks coiled and uncoiled in what looked like a nervous gesture, not that Greens could feel nerves. “More human,” Hoskins muttered. The Greens only looked more bizarre wearing clothes, to his mind. Green2378 spilled out of a smart-looking pinstriped suit with a neatly pressed shirt and immaculate tie, and looked a good bit sharper than Hoskins did, despite being a sentient tangle of vines.
“Have you ever spoken to one? I mean properly spoken?” Keeping one hand in contact with Greens’ tendrils, Nelson reached out for Hoskins, who shied away with a sneer.
“Come on,” Nelson insisted. “What’s the harm?”
Hoskins’s lip curled, but he couldn’t deny his curiosity. It was, after all, just a plant. What could be the harm? He reached out his hand and suppressed a shudder as Green2378 laid first a few leaves, then a few tendrils, on his fingertips.
Then a whisper bloomed in the back of his mind, a soft insistent voice, like the wind in the trees, though he couldn’t make out any words.
“Go on,” Nelson urged, “say something.”
“…Hi,” Hoskins managed, squinting his eyes shut. The vines were encircling his fingers like dried-out octopus legs. It tickled a little bit, but it wasn’t all that bad.
Green2378 was in love. The taste of Hoskins’s skin was like water and sunlight and rich, loamy soil. He tried to tell Hoskins as much, but his thoughts became a tangle.
Hoskins cracked an eye. Green2378 quivered before him, whispering madly in Hoskins’s thoughts, the words indistinguishable. Then Green2378 reached out another leafy appendage for Hoskins’s hand, and in a flash the vines enveloped him to the wrist.
Hoskins squeaked out a surprised yell and yanked his hands back, rubbing them furiously together as if to scrub them clean. “What the hell was that?” he demanded.
“I think he likes you,” Nelson said, snickering a little.
“Keep him away from me,” Hoskins said, and stormed off.
Nelson shrugged at Green2378 by way of apology. “Sorry, Greenie. He just needs to warm up to you.”
Hoskins finished his shift that day trying not to think too much about the Greens, but always feeling like he saw 2378 out of the corner of his eye.
That night Hoskins awoke in a cold sweat; he’d dreamt that he was drowning in tangling vines that pulled him downward forever, strangling and choking him as they bore him into an infinite dark.
Outside the window, the trees seemed to loom a little closer to his windows. Hoskins got out of bed to look, and sure enough, down by his front walk, he saw Green2378, still wearing his pinstriped suit, spilling over and merging with the rosebushes.
Hoskins flew into a panic. He called the police and shouted obscenities at the Green from his window, but it didn’t matter. The police had never arrested a Green before and they weren’t about to start now; no Green had ever shown any sign of malice or intent to harm. They didn’t have the brain capacity. No, they assured Hoskins that Green2378 had simply gotten lost on his way home. They told him not to think any more about it. Ignoring it proved troublesome, though, when Green2378 was back again the next night, and the next.
Hoskins was going slowly out of his mind. Green2378 was always there at work, almost stalking him. The weeds were overtaking his lawn and growths of kudzu were beginning to envelop his house, but the police wouldn’t do anything about Green2378. They thought the idea of arresting a plant was funny.
Hoskins had had enough. The next night, he saw Green2378 on his lawn again and invited him in for a cool drink of water. Green2378 greedily accepted, not knowing that Hoskins had laced the drink with enough herbicide to clear a football field. Hoskins tossed the limp pile of leaves on the refuse pile in his backyard and kept the suit for himself.