Strange Fruit 2

Detail from ‘Abstract Flora’ ©2017 Cliff Davies

From my Flash Fiction Collection

Ashley woke up. Her little sister, Bethany, had been calling out to her. As Ashley rolled over to check on her sister, she felt her body push up against something hard. As she looked across their bedroom, she saw that Bethany’s sleeping form had become entwined by the tendrils of some exotic plant which were growing from a giant seed pod which lay on the bed next to her. Ashley looked down; a similar seed pod rested next to her. As she moved her arm to pull back the covers, a thick, green tendril snaked out from the pod and wrapped itself around her wrist. She gasped and tried to pull herself free. Another tendril shot out and bound her left leg. Ashley screamed out as she heaved herself over the edge of the bed, knocking ‘The Big Book of Fairy Tales’ which she’d been reading to Bethany onto the floor, the cover ripping as the book fell. She groped her way across to Bethany’s bed, dragging the pod behind her.

Ashley was pulling herself up onto the edge of Bethany’s bed when, Hodge, the housekeeper, appeared at the door. Hodge rushed over to the bedside. Ashley had managed to free her arm and was desperately tugging at Bethany’s bonds.

“Help me, Hodge, get it off her,” Ashley cried. “Quickly, it’s choking her.”

Hodge grunted as she tried to loosen the tendrils which were tightening around the little girl. Her strong fingers drew back the growth around Bethany’s face and neck. Ashley kicked at her own seed pod, freeing her leg. The pod rolled under her bed, hitting the wall with a dull thud.

“Go and fetch Tom and get him to bring something to cut this off,” said Hodge, gesturing toward the door with her head, as she continued to pull on the vegetation. Her voice rose: “Hurry, Ashley!”

Ashley hurtled downstairs and out of the kitchen door. “Tom, Tom!” she yelled, running down the garden to the potting shed where Tom was usually to be found.

He emerged carrying a watering can. “What’s the rush, Miss Ashley? You’re not even dressed.”

Ashley explained the situation to the puzzled gardener, who nevertheless grabbed his shears and secateurs and hurried into the house after her.

Ashley watched as Tom carefully chopped away at the plant. Soon there was a pile of cut vegetation next to the bed and Bethany was free. All the time while Tom had worked, there had been no sound from the little girl. They could see she was breathing, but she was unconscious.

“What’s wrong with her,” cried Ashley. “Why won’t she wake up? And these things..?” she pointed to the cut tendrils.

Hodge and Tom exchanged glances. “Tis Faeries’ work,” said Tom shaking his head. “That’s a spell that is.”

Hodge nodded gravely. “Aye, so it is.”

“Surely fairies are only in stories?” said Ashley, picking up the book and smoothing the torn cover.

Hodge didn’t answer. She turned to Tom. “Get all of this out of here,” she gestured at the pile of foliage. “And burn it.”

Tom nodded. “Every last piece.” He started collecting up the debris. Ashley bent to help him. “No, Miss Ashley, leave this to me.” He turned to Hodge. “Will you go for Ceridwen?”

“Aye, I will.” She turned to Ashley. “You just sit here with your sister until I come back. She’ll come to no more harm just now. I won’t be long.”

Ashley climbed into bed beside her sleeping sister and stoked her golden curls. She must have fallen asleep as it seemed just a few minutes later when Hodge came bustling through the bedroom door followed by a tall, slim woman, dressed in long, flowing garments and carrying a large cloth bag.

“Hello child,” the woman said softly to Ashley. “I am Ceridwen,” she laid a pale hand over Bethany’s forehead and smiled.

Hodge cleared the table which stood between the sisters’ beds. Ashley watched as Ceridwen unpacked her cloth bag and carefully placed a long red candle in a star-shaped holder on the table. Next she took out an ornate silver chalice which she filled with a clear green liquid poured from a little glass bottle. Hodge left the room and closed the door quietly behind her. Ceridwen started to chant.

***

The following day, Ashley was awoken by her sister. “Wake up, Ashley,” Bethany said as she nudged her shoulder gently. “Come on, you’ve been asleep for hours.”

Ashley shook her head, trying to clear the fog of sleep from her mind.

“You must have had a very bad dream last night,” continued Bethany. “You were tossing and turning as if you were trying to fight something.”

Ashley frowned. Had it all been a dream? Like in their ‘Big Book of Fairy Tales’? She glanced at the cover of the book which lay on the bedside table. The cover was torn. She picked it up to examine it, noticing a blob of red candle wax on the table surface.

“Come on, Ashley, Tom’s making a bonfire. We can ask Hodge if we can toast some marshmallows later.” Bethany rushed from the room, the door slamming behind her. Ashley heard her clattering downstairs and calling out to Hodge. Under Ashley’s bed the forgotten seed pod rocked gently from side to side.

©2018 Chris Hall

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