by D.M. Jewelle
The train rattled along the old tracks, passing a field teeming with flowers. A mild wind blew, the flowers swaying as if moving to a rhythm only known to them. The sun was partially obscured by large fluffy clouds drifting by, beams of light shining down on patches of the field, as if blessing a select few. The myriad of colours were a welcome sight to the passengers, whose cushioned seats alleviated some of their discomfort from a long journey.
Some of the passangers had taken to walking to other carriages in search of a drink or a hot meal at the mini-cafeteria carriage located towards the end of the train, while others had just plain taken to walking around. A group of young men gathered at the carriage entrance, watching the tracks beneath zoom past their eyes, no longer visible save for a blur of speed lines.
Key paid no attention to the scenery or the people; he was studying the picture he had taken from the old man’s house. Spurred on by the thought of punching God in the nose and with no other apparent goal in sight, he had packed a small bag with essentials: a change of clothes or two, a notebook and stationery for recording his journey, money, toiletries, a bottle of water, mp3 player, book, camera…
…so maybe he’d overpacked, but that was his mum’s fault.
When he told her of his intentions to find God on the path of least sense, she said, “Maybe God’ll be able to knock some sense back into you and make you wear PANTS,” and then proceeded to pack several pairs for him. Try as he might he couldn’t convince her that a long journey necessitated a lighter load, so he removed his smaller backpack from the large padded suitcase on wheels and abandoned it outside the train station; whoever stole that would be pleased at the lifetime supply of slacks within.
Initially Key thought he had reached a dead end before he had even started – the picture bore no face, just a gaping body orifice and fingers. Since the old man he got the picture from had been turned into an omelette (if not from his kitchen adventures, then surely from the flattened house), he had nowhere else to turn to save for the old lady the old man got the picture from.
That was four hours ago…
The train’s wheels screeched on the tracks, sending everyone reeling forward from momentum. Key found himself thrown forward into the back of the chair in front of him, his fall thankfully cushioned by the backrest. As the train slowed to a halt he was thrown backwards into his seat, his skirt exposing an inch of milky white skin. Hastily pulling his skirt over his thighs, he looked around for signs that anyone knew what was going on. The responses varied – some had taken the sudden stop as a delay and had leaned back on their chairs, aiming to take advantage with a good rest, a middle-aged lady was demanding an explanation for jarring her out of her nap while the passengers beside and behind her shrugged, having no idea themselves. Static crackle filled the carriage, and the intercom speaker jumped to life.
“Attention ladies and gentlemen, we have come upon a slight disturbance ahead, thank you for your patience and cooperation while the problem is rectified. I repeat, we have come upon a slight disturbance ahead, thank you for your patience and cooperation while the problem is rectified.”
Key sighed. The groans and complaints were only hushed mumbles, but the collective voices rose above him, breaking the silence. He turned to the window overlooking the flower field. The flowers continued swaying on their small stalks, loose petals carried off by the updraft creating a strange multi-coloured inverse rain. It seemed as they were waving at him, beckoning him to join them in their hypnotic ritual. The more Key stared, the more lifelike they seemed.
“We know what you seek,” a childlike voice said.
Key blinked. He rubbed his eyes and pressed his face to the window.
“Free us from our earthly chains, and we will take you to the old hag, traveller,” a chorus of children sang. A daisy waved its leafy hand at him, followed by several dozen flowers. To Key’s knowledge, flowers never spoke, nor did they prophecise or call forth to be plucked. As a child his mum had whapped him on the head for plucking flowers from her garden till he’d lost count; flowers asking to be uprooted seemed to make no sense-
Key pushed away from the window and sprang from his seat, sprinting to the exit. He pushed past the group of youths milling around the steps, and leapt out of the train, landing onto the ground with a thud. He fell forward; using his arm to support his landing, he kept running into the middle of the field where he last saw the daisy. Behind him, the youths stared at the tail of Key’s dark grey long coat flapping behind him, wide-mouthed and curious at the antics of the girl…or boy…whichever…ahead of them.
Key dropped to his knees, throwing his backpack beside him. He stared at the flowers, waving from side to side as if putting on a show for him. He let the petals brush against his fingers; he barely felt the grooves of the petals. His fist tightened around a clump of flowers, and yanked them from the ground, spilling loose bits of soil onto the other flowers and onto his knees, the rest remained stuck to the tiny roots.
He pressed the flowers to his ear: Nothing. Puzzled, he shook the flowers and tried again. There were no voices, no little mouths on the flowers.
Blissfully unaware of the several dozen or so faces pressed against the carriage windows curious at his bizarre behaviour, Key reached out and uprooted several more stalks with his other hand and pressed them against his ear to see if they would speak as before; all kept mum. He blinked, confused that nothing was happening. Surely he wasn’t descending into madness at the first leg of his journey – it was far too soon. Maybe if he was gentler they would be more inclined to speak to him, he thought, so he tried again, this time holding the bottom of the stem with his thumb and index finger, and easing it out by wiggling the stem from side to side until the fine hairs were completely exposed.
Key continued staring at the untouched flowers, wondering where he went wrong when he felt the ground rumble beneath him. The train clattered and shook, sending the passengers into a frenzy within the carriages. Suddenly frantic squawking was heard coming from the front of the train. Key got up and jogged to the front, still clutching the flowers he had picked earlier.
He was unprepared for the sight before him: Fifteen chickens ran helter-skelter on the train tracks was weird enough, but several large pinkish tentacles were chasing them. The tentacles jutted from the ground, reaching out for a chicken each and wrapping itself around the fowl, causing the birds to struggle and flap their wings and squawk even louder. A tentacle tightened its grip until the chicken fell silent, and it dropped the bird to the ground, dead.
Key stepped back slowly, trying not to disturb the strange angry tentacles. The ground cracked, and more tentacles burst forth behind him. He yelped in surprise. A slew of tendrils rose from the tracks and grabbed the carriages, trapping the people within. They tried pushing a particularly large tentacle away from the exit, but it only aggravated the tentacle further, tightening its grip and lifting the carriages off the ground. Frantic but muffled screams filled the coaches, leaving Key alone and exposed, stunned at the scene before him.
“WHO DARES PROFANE MY FIELD?” A deep voice boomed across the field. Key looked around, searching for a source, but to no avail.
“WHO INSULTS ULTROS, KEEPER OF THIS HOLY GARDEN?” The voice demanded once more.
The people trapped in the coaches frantically pointed at Key, who still held the flowers pulled earlier. The tentacles, spread all over the field, turned sharply to face him. The larger ones loosened their grip around the train, slithering over to Key instead. The tentacles drew to their full height; each one towered Key by over two heads. They slithered and surrounded him from the sides and above, each poised to react to any sudden movements. The sun was blotted out from Key’s sight, eventually wrapped in shadows; He merely stared slack-jawed, paralysed with a touch of intrigue and fear of the consequences to come.
Several beastly tentacles and a boy in a skirt stared for a long, long time, neither making the slightest move. Finally the boy spoke up, albeit in a small hesitant voice.
“DIDN’T YOUR MOTHER TEACH YOU NOT TO PICK OTHER PEOPLE’S FLOWERS?” The voice echoed within the confines of the makeshift prison.
“Well…the flowers told me to,” Key said, looking at the flowers from the corner of his eye.
An uncomfortable silence followed.
“THE FLOWERS TOLD YOU TO PICK THEM?”
“Y..yeah…they said they’d take me to find this old woman, see-”
“DO FLOWERS SPEAK?” The suckers on one of the tentacles’ white underbelly bristled in anger.
“I know it doesn’t make sense, but it really happened, and-”
“IF FLOWERS DID SPEAK, WHY WOULD THEY ASK TO DIE?”
“I don’t know, I can’t really speak for the flowers, maybe if you hear what they have to say-”
“FLOWERS DO NOT SPEAK!”
“Well, yours certainly do-” Key insisted.
“DO YOU TAKE ME FOR A FOOL?” More tentacles bristled; The popping sound hurt Key’s ears.
“YOU HAD COME UP WITH A GOOD REASON!” The shouting and booming and bristling was getting on Key’s nerves.
“-Maybe because you’re an ASSHOLE!” Key snapped back. The tentacles stiffened.
“Listen to yourself, yaddayaddayadda everything’s about me me me, could you let me finish ONE sentence before you open you great big maw, or suckers, or whatever you have! Jeebus, of course your flowers don’t talk because you keep talking and talking and talking, they can’t get your attention short of getting killed because maybe THEN you’d shut up long enough to hear what other people need to tell you!” The tentacles slowly backed way, letting a sliver of light through.
Key pointed an accusing finger at the tentacles. “That’s the problem with you self-absorbed types – get the chance to take care of something good and important and sparkly and pretty and you act like you gave birth to the damn things! You suffocate them and deprive them of what they want and need until dying’s the best way out, and you don’t know it because you’re too busy being all puffed up and important and thinking you know best when you don’t!”
Key panted, catching his breath from his rant, still glaring at the motionless tentacles. One by one, they inched further from him until there were gaps between each tentacle.
Then they turned bright red, and the ground’s rumbling grew louder. A loud roar, and the tentacles rose in unison and dived towards Key, whose expression changed to one of wide-eyed realisation of what he’d done.
He sidestepped and barely missed a tentacle as it stabbed the ground with such force bits and pieces of flowers and grass flew up. Key turned around, and ran in the direction of his bag; he scooped it up and made a sharp turn to the left, running further from the train. Tentacles spiked up from the ground in front and around him hoping to throw him off and catch him, but to no avail; Key was one step ahead of them, running in zig-zags and using his heels to dig into the soil to give him enough momentum to turn sharply in another direction. Despite trying to catch him unaware a few times by appearing under his feet and grabbing his ankles, Key always skipped out safely. He stumbled a few times, but recovered fast enough to continue.
The field seemed endless; the horizon yielded rows and rows of flowers. Key wondered if there was any end to it when a tree suddenly popped up front of him. He stretched his arms, palms facing the tree and pushed himself away from the tree, only to find another in his path. He repeated the pattern with every other tree that followed, unaware that he had left the field and entered a forest until a protruding root tripped him up and he fell face first with a soft thud, his surprise cut short by a cushion of dry leaves.
The soft rustling of leaves in the wind felt a lot louder in the silence of the woods.
Key lay motionless for several seconds, the light breeze ruffling through loose ash-blonde strands.
Slowly, Key’s palms pressed against the dry leaves, pushing his face off the ground. He tucked his legs under him while he brushed dirt and leaves off his white shirt, his hair, and his face. He sighed at the light stain on his shirt – it was anyone’s guess as to how long it would take him to get it washed. Looking around, he saw his bag nestled in between two tree roots a little ways behind him. He walked over to his bag and checked the contents. Satisfied that nothing had been broken, he slung the backpack over his shoulder and took a step before he stopped and realised something very important for his journey.
He was lost.
He turned back to the direction he thought he came from, and saw only rows upon rows of trees behind. He turned to his front and sides and was greeted with the same scenery, perhaps with variations on how multiple trees of different shapes and sizes were arranged, but nothing more. The canopy only allowed the smallest slivers of sunlight to reach the ground, making it hard for Key to gauge his direction using the sun and his watch. With a sigh and the decision to walk in a random direction as long as he didn’t have to face the angry tentacles, he set off.
His journey was cut short when the ground abruptly pulled away from under him and a very steep slope replaced it.
Key tumbled down, rolling over tree roots and several bumps concealed under leaves and soil. To say that it wasn’t painful in the least would be a lie, as every jab and bump hit the spine, a bone, or the more sensitive areas of the body as it went on, yelling and cursing at every fresh bruise.
Key finally stopped rolling after he landed in a stream located at the bottom of the slope. As he floated to the surface, he found himself lying face-up in the water, his arms spread out beside him. His right hand had gotten tangled with his backpack’s black canvas straps, and found itself submerged, yet still bobbing underwater, following him like a leashed pet.
The river wasn’t too deep – mid-thigh length, he estimated – and the slow, steady current carried him along. He squinted when bright spots of light pierced his eyes. The water splashed against his flushed cheeks and neck, the cool damp feeling a welcome comfort.
He wondered how long would he float until the water soak his clothes and pull him under – A modern-day Ophelia of sorts, except in unfamiliar regions where his body would just be considered that of a lunatic instead of a tragic heroine. Still, there could be the off-chance that he might be mistaken for a tragic hero in a heroine’s clothing; the meaning intact, but the outcome much more ridiculous and subject to more speculation.
Before he had more time to ruminate on the morbidity of the situation, he heard a faint voice, clearer and louder as he drifted further downstream. Key thought it sounded like “I’ve got a fish down my pants!”, but he wasn’t sure. He exhaled and let his body sink, hoping to avoid detection. The water must have obscured his hearing, because apparently the voice was much nearer than he thought.
Beneath, he saw a face distorted and pulled left and right, the features a diagonal slant, with a hint of blonde hair. A pair of hands reached and grabbed him under his arms, pulling him up. His soaked hair obscured his face, dripping and forming little ripples on the water. Behind him, a man’s voice was one of mild surprise.
“Wow, Ophelia really does exist.”