“Well, what do you think?” Monica Devers asked, wiping the sweat from her forehead onto the back of a gloved hand, brushing aside the black ringlets that stuck to her wet brow. Folding her hands atop the shovel handle, she rested her chin as she fondly admired her handiwork.
“Looks good,” her husband answered as he sat down in the porch swing with a cup of coffee.
“Only good?” she asked incredulously as she laid down the shovel and removed her gardening gloves. “Four solid hours of toiling out here in this hot sun, digging, planting, sweating… and all you can say is that it looks good?”
Dale chuckled. “It looks great, Hun. You did a wonderful job, and your flowers are an array of beautiful, vibrant colors,” he said with the wave of a hand.
“That’s more like it,” Monica said with a smile.
“I just hope they turn out better than the ones last year did,” he added.
Monica laughed, knowing what he was referring to. He had called her the bloom murderer for weeks after that debacle, because everything she’d planted had turned brown, withered, and then died. “Me, too,” she agreed. “I don’t…” she began, her words abruptly interrupted by a violent burst of sneezing.
“You alright?” Dale asked.
“I think so,” Monica answered, wiping at her nose. “Probably allergies from all the dirt and pollen I stirred up.”
“Babe, you didn’t destroy all the dandelions, did you?” Dale asked as he glanced around the yard.
“If by dandelions you mean weeds, then yes.”
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Dale said with a shake of his head. “They’re great for the bees. In fact, they depend on them, and we depend on the bees. If their source of food is removed and they can’t eat or pollinate, then they’ll die out. Where would we be without them?”
“I read an article in a gardening magazine that said the opposite of that,” Monica offered. “The horticulturist that wrote it said that dandelions are a poor source of pollen and nectar, and that bees actually prefer the pollen from fruit trees. And since we don’t have any of those, and the dandelions aren’t good for them, why keep them?”
“Bees aren’t the only animals that feed on them, Monica. Butterflies, beetles, even birds rely on them, and each of them has an important role in maintaining our ecosystem. I’m sure I don’t have to explain what a disturbance in the natural order of things could cause.”
“No, you don’t. And if the dandelions are so important to all of those critters, then they can all find more in someone else’s yard.”
Dale started to speak, but Monica cut him off before he could say anything. “I know where you’re going, Dale,” she said with the wave of a hand. “You were about to tell me for the gazillionth time how important the bee population is to the survival of humans, plants, and animals, and that without them, our food supply would dwindle or completely disappear. Does that about cover it?”
“Close enough,” he answered.
Monica started sneezing again in rapid succession, barely able to catch her breath in between. “Damn,” she panted. “I’ve never had a sneezing bout like that before. Must be an awful lot of crap inside my nose.”
“Why don’t you call it a day, come inside, and take a long, hot bath? I’ll fix you a cup of lemon and honey tea. Might even add a shot of bourbon to give it some kick. Between the two of them, it should take care of your allergy problem.”
“Sounds good,” Monica answered, picking up the shovel and bucket of gardening tools. Before she could make it to the shed, she was abruptly struck with another outbreak of explosive sneezing.
Monica was awakened from a peaceful sleep shortly after midnight by a scratchy, burning pain in her throat. Careful not to wake Dale, she slid quietly out of bed, padding down the carpeted hallway and into the kitchen, rubbing her achy throat along the way. The night light next to the stove provided enough illumination for her to see without having to turn on the overhead light. At the sink, she turned on the tap and held a finger beneath the running water until it began to get warm, and then filled a glass half full, added salt and gargled. It hurt to swallow, the excruciating pain reminding her of the recurrent flareups of tonsillitis she’d suffered as a young girl. The removal of her tonsils has remedied the repeated illness, and she’d never had another sore throat that severe… until now. “Summer colds are the worst,” she whispered, rinsing her glass, and placing it upside down in the dish drainer. Removing the magnetic flashlight from the stovetop, she took it into the bathroom and closed the door, adjusting the light switch knob to the brightest setting, and stepped up to the vanity mirror. An external examination of her face, neck, and throat revealed nothing out of the ordinary, certainly nothing to raise any concern. No red splotches, no rashes, absolutely nothing that would show that she was suffering from an allergic reaction. Other than the sore throat, which seemed to be getting worse by the second, she didn’t feel sick or feverish at all. She stared into the mirror for several seconds, focusing her attention on the origin of the pain, wondering if she simply had a basic run of the mill, sore throat, or if perhaps it might be something much more serious. The entire left side of her throat was pulsating as if it had a heartbeat of its own, throbbing to its own rhythm. She recalled the many times she had described her tonsillitis as “feeling like swallowing a razor blade,” but that had felt nothing like what she was experiencing at the moment. Even weirder was that it felt as if there were something crawling beneath the soft, moist flesh. As much as she dreaded looking, afraid of what she might see, she had to know.
Turning on the flashlight, she stuck out her tongue as far as she could and shined the light inside of her mouth.
“Ah.” Nothing extraordinary there either. It was redder than normal, but that wasn’t uncommon with sore throats, and she wasn’t alarmed by it. Turning off the flashlight, she returned to the kitchen. Forgoing another disgusting and painful salt gargle, she opted instead for a throat lozenge, hoping it would help to soothe the discomfort. Immediately upon popping it in her mouth, she spat it into the garbage. The menthol in the cough drop only exacerbated the pain, making it feel as though a fiery torch was burning its way through her throat. The excruciating pain was almost unbearable, having grown so intense that she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to go back to sleep. She decided then that if she didn’t feel better by the time she woke up, she would make an appointment to see her doctor.
“Dale, my throat is killing me,” she said hoarsely, pouring him a glass of orange juice, barely able to speak above a whisper. “I think I’m coming down with something.”
“It’s not allergies, then?”
“I don’t think so,” she answered, struggling to speak. “If it is an allergic reaction, I can honestly say that I’ve never had one this bad. Here,” she said, handing him the flashlight. “Look and tell me if you see anything.”
“Hmm, uh-huh, hmm,” Dale said as he examined her throat. He then turned off the flashlight and handed it back to her.
“Well? Did you see anything?”
“A tongue, teeth, uvula, but nothing out of the ordinary.”
“I haven’t had a sore throat this bad since I was a little girl,” she told him.
“Your throat looks a little raw,” he told her. “Maybe you’re having an adverse reaction to one of the flowers you planted yesterday. One that you’re sensitive to, maybe?”
“I don’t know,” she said, shrugging. “Maybe.”
“Do you remember getting any of the potting soil in your eyes or up your nose? Or did you accidentally inhale any of the fertilizer?”
“None of those,” she said. “But,” she continued, and then stopped.
“But what?” Dale prompted.
“It’s probably nothing, but the only thing I can think of is that I had a really hard time getting one of those drastic dandelions out of the ground. I pulled and pulled, but it didn’t want to let go, so I yanked it as hard as I could, and when I finally got it to budge, I fell backwards with it in my hand and some of the dirt from its roots fell in my face, but I quickly brushed it off.”
“That shouldn’t be causing you to have this kind of problem with your throat. I mean, it is only dirt, after all.”
Monica chewed thoughtfully on her lip. “It’s not the dirt that concerns me,” she explained. “It’s what was beneath it. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but now…” she said, her voice trailing off.
“What was under the dirt, Monica?” Dale asked, sounding alarmed.
Lost in thought, Monica didn’t answer.
“Hmm?” she asked, returning her attention to Dale. “What did you say?”
“What was under the dirt?”
“Worms,” she answered. “Big, fat red ones, tons of them, all knotted together and squirming over each other. When I planted last year, I dug up a couple of them, but nothing compared to what I saw yesterday.” She paused and swallowed, grimacing at the pain. “When I finally pulled the dandelion out, the ground gave way under it, leaving a deep hole. More of a crater,” she stated. “Deep enough for me to stick my entire arm in. You don’t suppose one of those worms got into my nose and burrowed itself in there, do you? Or somehow wiggled its way into my throat and nested there?”
“No,” Dale replied with a short laugh. “If a worm got into your mouth or nose, you would have felt it and either spit it out or swallowed it. If it was the latter, then you could just poop it out and be done with it. One burying itself beneath your skin would be next to impossible because you would have felt it chewing its way through and stopped it.”
“Gross,” Monica said, shuddering at the thought of a worm being inside her mouth. Or worse, having one crawling around inside of her.
“Is there something else?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head as she gave it some thought. “Well, except for all of those little white things covering the roots. There seemed to be hundreds of those as well.”
“White things?” Dale repeated.
“Yes, but it wasn’t the roots themselves, they were on the roots, clinging to them,” she stated. “I don’t know what they were, but in hindsight, I can only say that they looked like maggots.”
“Sounds like it may have been root bulbs,” Dave offered. “Unless they were moving around. Were they?”
“I don’t think so,” Monica replied. “But to be honest, I didn’t really pay close enough attention to say so with certainty.”
“If it makes you feel any better, I can’t think of a logical reason maggots would be clinging to the roots of a weed. They feed on dead meat, not plants. With that in mind, I’m going with root bulbs.”
“Let’s hope you’re right,” Monica replied, disgusted by the possibility that instead of swallowing a worm, she may have ingested maggots.
As she had been the night before, Monica was again roused from sleep. Not because of a sore throat, but because she was overcome by a brutal attack of coughing, heaving so fiercely and deeply that she began to gag.
“Monica?” Dale said sleepily.
“I’m okay, honey, go back to sleep,” she told him as she slid out of bed, continuously swallowing to ward off more coughs. Her throat was a literal firepit, every cough like tossing another log onto the already fiery blaze, amplifying the heat and intensity.
Exiting the bedroom, she closed the door. No sense in keeping Dale awake for a situation that he couldn’t do anything about, anyway. If she needed him, she’d wake him. Until then, she’d take whatever measures were necessary to help quell the fits of coughing.
If only the doctor’s office could have gotten her in that day, perhaps she could have been prescribed medication that would have cured the sore throat and coughing and helped her to feel better and put her on the path to recovery. Unfortunately, a sore throat wasn’t considered an emergency and she couldn’t get in to see her doctor for another two days, suffering in agony while she waited.
Doing the only thing she knew to do under the circumstances, she gargled with warm, salty water, but it did nothing to help ease the pain. It actually did the opposite by igniting a blaze in her throat, exacerbating the already unrelenting pain.
With the flashlight in hand, Monica once more stood before the vanity mirror. Sliding the power button to the ON position, she shone the beam of light into her mouth–and instantly took a step backwards in horror by what she’d seen, dropping the flashlight in the process as she covered her mouth with both hands.
To find out whether she’d been the victim of a deceptive illusion caused by the narrow beam of light instead of actually seeing an unusual, out-of-place oddity, Monica needed to look closer. Picking up the flashlight, she slowly stepped up to the mirror and opened her mouth.
She hadn’t imagined it. What she was seeing certainly wasn’t flashlight beam trickery. What appeared to be a tonsil stone protruded from the left side of her throat. But Monica knew it couldn’t be, because of all the ones she’d ever had as a kid, none of them had been the color of grass.
At first glance, it was about as big as a pea. As she stared into the mirror with her mouth agape, it expanded to the size of a penny and developed into a brighter shade of green.
Monica abruptly started coughing and gagging against the large protrusion, struggling to catch her breath. When the incident finally subsided after several minutes, Monica closed the lid on the toilet and sat down, shaken by what she’d seen. She felt dizzy, lightheaded, and winded. Looking at her hands, she saw they were trembling uncontrollably. She rubbed them together and shook her arms, trying to calm down. Her heart pounded anxiously inside her chest. She thought about waking Dale up and going to the emergency room, but reconsidered when she was spared another round of uncontrollable coughing. Slowly, she began to calm down and regain her composure.
One last look at her throat. Then she’d drink a glass of water, go back to bed, and try to get some sleep, if that were possible.
Monica gasped, not believing her eyes. In the short time that had elapsed since she’d last looked, the abnormality had increased in size and was now twice as large as before, extending almost to the center of her throat. What looked like tiny thorns extended from all sides of the ovoid-shaped growth and resembled the hundreds of sandspurs she’d stepped on while walking barefoot along the grassy area of the Florida beaches she’d visited throughout the years. Except that sandspurs were usually brown or tan, not leafy green.
A tickle was building in Monica’s throat, alerting her that yet another coughing and gagging spell was imminent.
Hastily, she fled to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water–but didn’t get the chance to drink it.
She was overcome by an eruption of coughing so severe that she couldn’t catch her breath. She was suffocating! Whatever that thing was that was growing inside of her throat had completely blocked her airway, thwarting any chances at all of being able to breathe.
Tiny white specks of light flashed in the darkness around her like fireflies flitting about as they performed a farewell dance in her honor.
She clawed at her throat as she struggled to take a breath, feeling a darkness descending upon her–the black claws of death reaching out for her, beckoning to her, calling out her name.
As she collapsed, she grasped the dish drainer, pulling it and all of its contents down onto the floor with her.
“Monica?” Dale sprang from bed, awakened by the loud clamber of shattering glass and utensils as they scattered across the tile floor.
Stepping briskly into the hallway, Dale called out again. “Monica?”
She didn’t answer.
The bathroom light was on and the door was open, but Monica wasn’t in there. Groggy from being suddenly awakened, Dale was perplexed and somewhat confused as he rounded the corner from the hallway that led into the kitchen.
From the entranceway, he could see a dark figure slumped on the floor, but something about the silhouette didn’t appear quite normal. In one essence, it looked human, but the outline of a protrusion that extended upward from the top of the body was macabre, and definitely out of place.
And what was that odd buzzing noise? It sounded like a swarm of flies hovering over a dead and rotting animal carcass.
“Monica?” Dale said, approaching the figure and kneeling down beside it. He covered his mouth to stifle the scream that threatened to break through as he stared into the distorted face of what had once been his beautiful wife.
He could now see what had caused such an odd appearance to the darkened form in the dimly lit kitchen.
Jutting from her mouth were six jagged leaves, spread across her face like spider legs.
And in the center, a cluster of yellow dandelions being pollinated by a throng of hungry bees.
Dale burst into a fit of maniacal, crazed laughter as he realized in shock and horror that his wife, in her death, had been turned into a human vase that held the one genus of flower that she had destroyed and refused to let grow in her precious garden.