Linda Periwinkle was an ‘oddball’. All of Flower Mount’s 352 residents knew it. Not one of them had ever visited her flower shop. Not even for the sake of gossip.
Zach Hosta, of the next town over, stumbled upon Periwinkle’s Primitive Plants in the midst of a crisis involving his girlfriend and a six week anniversary.
Zach took a few steps into the dimly-lit shop, the door gliding shut behind him. The air conditioning hummed steadily, accompanied by the fizzle of the overhead lights. A bead of sweat slid down the side of his nose.
“Hello?” He wandered down the center aisle, banked by tables laden with indistinguishable greenery.
The short hairs on his arm suddenly stood erect as light insect feet skittered across his skin. He paused, raising his right hand slowly. Then something slithered to his left and the fly was gone. In its place, three narrow scratches.
“Atheis,” a woman stepped out from the shadow of a monstrous shrub, a sharp expression stamped on her face. “Behave.”
Her feet made no noise on the cracked tiles as she approached him. A limp strand of hair hung in her face and it fluttered when she spoke, “I apologize. We’re not used to visitors.”
She smiled, as if she had just remembered she was supposed to, “Can I help you?”
He opened his mouth and a flash of movement caught his eye. He glanced down in time to stop the leafy tentacle from wrapping around his ankle. His stomach heaved into his throat as he watched it retract to the safety of a table.
“Actually,” his voice came out squeaky, “I was just leaving.”
Of course, by then, it was already too late.
Zach drove with the windows rolled down, singing along with the radio and not really knowing the words. He hit a pot hole and laughed as his butt left the seat, the top of his head grazing the ceiling.
His shirt was buttoned crooked and his hair stuck out at varying angles. He combed his fingers through it, resulting in no obvious change.
He flipped on the turn signal and slowed before scooting onto the main road. The song ended and the night DJ piped up with a few scripted lines. Zach checked the rearview mirror for headlights and caught himself smiling.
That’s when he noticed the buzzing, the flap of small wings right by his ear.
His hand shot up and grabbed the puny creature. It was in his mouth and down his throat before he gave it a second thought.
Three seconds ticked by before he started gagging. His hands flew to his neck, allowing the car to drift into the other lane. A green sedan honked as it swerved to avoid him.
His hands shook on the steering wheel as he righted the car and they continued to shake until he went to bed, rather earlier than usual.
He couldn’t see the TV. The sofa’s new position beneath the window didn’t allow it. He clicked it off, a laugh track cutting off abruptly, and sipped his water.
Zach closed his eyes and let his head fall back, enjoying the warmth of the sun. The glass rose to his lips once more, a few drops dribbling down his chin.
In the kitchen, the phone rang. He sat perfectly still, listening, until it stopped. A lazy little grin appeared on his face.
The ringing started up again.
His chest ballooned with a sigh and he heaved himself up off the couch. He turned to place the cup on the end table, stalling. It slipped through his fingers, bounced against the carpet, spilling but not breaking.
A wet spot on the rug was the least of his problems.
In the place of his right arm rested a tentacle, long and smooth and green. It wriggled, stretching toward the light streaming through the glass, and the screaming began.
At first, no sound came, then as if a barrier had been broken, a noise came from his throat, high-pitched, like a teapot whistling. It warped as his head became flat and his eyes disappeared into his head. His legs fell out beneath him, curling up, useless.
The last thing that Zach Hosta heard was his doorbell ringing.
No one looked twice as she walked down the street carrying the biggest carnivorous plant any of them had ever seen. Everyone knew Linda Periwinkle was an oddball.