Forty-three years earlier, Mastue looked down at his five-year-old daughter. There were tears in his eyes. He wore a boar skin and he had a spear in his hand. The men who wanted the trees had pressed so far into the Amazon basin, Mastue and his daughter couldn’t hide anymore. Their tribe had been slaughtered, they were all that was left of them. The men with their giant yellow monsters had people walking in front of them with giant sticks that shot rocks out of them. The giant yellow monsters ate the trees. They didn’t have legs, they rolled through the forest and made horrible noises as they ate. The monsters had just rolled over the bodies of his wife, other kids and friends after they had been killed and their huts destroyed, then ground into the dirt.
Enrico adjusted the holster of his AK-47. He had heard there were still tribes in the jungle, but hadn’t believed it until he saw it for himself. The tribe’s people hadn’t fought back. The ground he walked on was spongy and wet. He hated it here. He radioed to the guy operating the saw tractor that he thought he had killed them all. He wiped the sweat from his forehead. The humidity was atrocious. His leather jacket was hot, but the mosquitos were relentless so he kept it on. Around him were more men spray-painting orange X’s on trees marked to be cut down.
He wanted to be home, back in Mexico City, his wife was waiting for him. ’Well,’ he thought to himself, ’She is also waiting for my paycheck’. They needed the money, they had a baby on the way. Around him the jungle steamed. Heading uphill he looked backward at the long trail of downed trees going back through the jungle for miles. “Two more days” he whispered.
One of the guys spray painting trees screamed and fell backward. A man with a spear exited the woods, looking sad. Enrico shot him in the head. As the savage fell Enrico heard crying. Behind him a little girl was shaking, she was naked and dirty. The men circled her, she urinated out of fear while looking up at them. The guys with spray cans looked to Enrico: he raised his gun. Most of the guys looked away.
Enrico had been told by his bitch of a mother-in-law that his wife was having a girl. He had no reason to dispute that, as she tended to be right a lot. Around him, the sound of saws and men yelling were everywhere. The guys with the spray cans returned to their tasks. The little jungle girl continued to look up at him. After a while, he lowered his gun.
Years later, he came to realize that the reason he hadn’t shot her was that she had been naked, which made him think of his baby girl on the way. The head loggers said he was insane, but he didn’t care. His daughter at home would need a sister and he raised the jungle girl as his own. They named her Joanne.
Joanne delivered the package to the old white lady named Karen. The old lady gushed while Bill looked on, sitting nearby on the porch. They said thank you a bunch of times. She took their check and put it in her purse. She would be bringing it with her to work tomorrow. As she walked to her car, she looked at the vines across the street, then drove home.
She made corndogs for the family. Her husband hated corndogs. “I wanted tamales tonight.” She said, “Then don’t eat.” He begrudgingly sat down and ate. They watched TV before going to bed. That night she dreamed:
Mastue had brought his daughter along, even though she was so young. One thing the elders always told them was, “Never turn down the opportunity to learn or to teach.” Surrounded by other tribe members, the woman had bare breasts, the men wore loincloths. They found it. A bird had flown in sick and died with it. The vines were spreading out attempting to acquire more flesh: the leaves had a reddish tint.
Squawks and hoots came from the birds above. One of the elders said to dig around it, and, above all else, don’t let it touch you. As they dug, the leaves reached where they moved. They started a large fire and slowly transferred it to the vines. It scared them greatly to hear the vines making noises as they burned.
They set a watch in the area to make sure they had burned all of it. Mastue made sure his daughter saw it all.
Around four in the morning, Joanne woke up screaming and drenched in sweat. Elias asked what the problem was, but fell back asleep before she could answer. Over a shaking cup of coffee she made breakfast for her family. Eggs and bacon. When she left the trailer, her girls were watching TV. Wishing they were back in school, they were bored.
On her way to work, she thought about the vines. During work, she thought about the vines. Her boss and co-worker kept asking, ’What’s the matter?”, and, “Why so jumpy?” She sat in the break room, her potato chips uneaten. Although her adopted father Enrico had been dead many years, she remembered his words, “If nothing else, ask God.” Her shift was uneventful: distracted she punched out.
She went to the St. Mary’s Catholic Church after work and got on her knees. There was a nun in the front lighting candles. There was no one else there: the tabernacle behind the altar had shown a golden glow. She said the Hail Mary over and over, hoping for something, a message maybe. Her dream haunted her, but she couldn’t….She fell into a light doze:
Back at her trailer, she made dinner for her husband and daughters. Tonight was pizza. As they lifted up the slices of pizza, the vines leaped into their mouths, they tried to chew as the vines exited their ears, curving around the backs of their heads…
She was shaken awake by that same nun, who pointed at her ringing phone. She was sweating and trembling. Instead of walking to her car across the street, she crossed the parking lot around to the back of the church, her sandals making a flipping and flapping sound. She didn’t know the story about the house, but she did approach it. The vines that had caught her attention were up two trees, and over half of the house was covered. She was terrified, but got as close as she could without touching them.
Joanne took a package of napkins out of her purse. A few years ago she had quit smoking, but she still had a lighter. She lit the tissue paper and tossed it on the vines. Recoiling from the fire, the vines also made a sound she hadn’t heard in almost fifty years, a strange screaming. Looking out through a multi-colored window, the nun saw the Mexican woman running to her car, squealing out of the parking lot. The nun wondered what the hurry was.
Joanne made long black skid marks from braking the tires in their driveway. She opened the door to their trailer so hard, the glass in the door shattered. She was shaking so badly, she could no longer hold her car keys and they dropped to the kitchen floor. She screamed, “Girls, go pack your bags. We are leaving town.” When Maria and Maddie looked up at her and didn’t stand right away, she got a wooden spoon and began to beat them with it. Elias got up from his La-Z Boy and asked what was the matter as the girls ran to their bedrooms. She was hyperventilating when she told him, “It’s here.”
Forty-five minutes later, the highway patrol officer looking for speeders, saw them. They were driving a brand new Ford F-150 and doing a 110 miles an hour. His shift was almost over, but he thought, ’One more for today’. He almost called for backup, but they finally slowed, then pulled over. Deputy Peck took off his sunglasses as the sun was setting behind him, put them on the dashboard and brushed his blond hair back. He ran the plates, found no priors, then exited the vehicle.
The Hispanic man driving with hands on the steering wheel was white-knuckled. His wife could not stop whispering to herself; she had a rosary in her hands. Two teenage girls were in the back seat, looking scared. He took this in for a moment before he said, “License and registration.” Elias handed it over.
The computer told him everything was fine, no record. Another highway patrol car pulled up behind Deputy Peck and black-haired officer got out of his car. Elias saw this and became even more nervous. Joanne had her eyes closed tightly, she whispered the Lord’s Prayer over and over.
The two officers approached Elias’s Ford.
When she had told him of the plant, Elias hadn’t believed her. He scoffed and said she was crazy. It wasn’t until she punched him in the face that he took her seriously. As he nursed his nose, she reluctantly drove him to the street behind St. Mary’s Church. They’d left their daughters at home. The light was poor. The second time she used a newspaper-- same reaction, same screaming.
Elias was scared. He had already mentally mapped out their escape. Minneapolis airport, they would wait until a plane was available and they’d leave the U.S., fly back to Mexico City. He was shaking so badly the officers thought he might be on something. They asked him to exit his truck which turned into a misunderstanding that ended ugly.
There was a big red semi heading towards them. Elias had his back to the highway. He had already passed the sobriety test and they were about to let him go. Officer Peck reached out to pull him in so he didn’t get hit by the tractor trailer. Elias took this to mean they were going to arrest him, and he pushed Officer Peck away from him. The other officer said, “It’s fine, just calm down.” He approached palms forward to tell him to get back in his truck, when Elias pushed him away. A fight ensued. Two against one, Elias lost. They told Joanne she could pick him up after bail was paid. After the police had left with Elias she drove east towards Minneapolis.
When Officer Peck punched in the following morning, Elias was still at the jail. Peck asked Elias, “Where did your wife go? Why didn’t she come to pick you up?” Elias looked defeated. He shrugged, “I would have left her here too. There isn’t much time.” Officer Peck asked, “Isn’t much time for what?”
Elias, “To get away.”
Officer Peck wanted to ask more, but his radio lit up, “All units, a dump truck has tipped over on I-94, 120-mile marker, All units respond.” Peck raced out the door.
Kurt’s assistant Lyle at the funeral home also worked as a cemetery caretaker. He mowed around the headstones once a week. The St. Mary’s Cemetery took him 11 hours to mow. He needed to be done by 7 p.m. so he could shower and dress fancy to attend the wake of another of the newly deceased.
They had buried the Professor two days after he had died. There was no reason for embalming. The Melrose Legion had just put up the veteran’s markers; they were a pain in the ass to mow around. The VFW would soon be putting up the POW markers and they would also be a pain in the ass, plus the fire department, then the police.
When he got to that area of the tombstone the Professor had paid for, he saw it was covered in green ivy. There was a reddish tint to the ivy, so thick he could no longer read the tombstone. Turning off the mower, he walked over. The ivy had grown right up out of the ground.
He had buried the Professor four days prior. ’How the hell could it grow that fast?’ he thought. He meant to pull the vines off but checked his watch. 6:45. “Crap, I gotta go.” He parked the mower and made a mental note to attack the vines with a weed whacker tomorrow.
Scott had on Oakley sunglasses as he exited the plane, his Jordan Nike shoes squeaked as he rushed down the terminal. His perfectly gelled hair was streaked with blond, his collar was up and his shirt buttoned with style. When the lady at the car rental place couldn’t locate a convertible, he asked her if she was retarded, then he threatened her job if she didn’t get him something nice. She asked if a 2015 Ford Focus was okay? By the time he finally left with the keys in his hand, she was in tears.
He navigated through 35W up to I-94 out of Minneapolis. Usually a two-hour drive it took him an hour and fifteen minutes. The speed limit didn’t apply to him. (That’s what he told himself). When he finally got close, passing through the last town before Melrose, he looked in horror at the city of Freeport’s water tower. It looked like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. “Everyone here is crazy.” he said to himself. When he took in the size of Melrose, he almost turned around to leave. He desperately wanted to get back to Florida and his new girlfriend.
Using a map app on his phone, he found his uncle’s house. Getting out of the car, he cursed his dead relative for living in Minnesota, ’It’s not like he didn’t have the money to live somewhere better.’ he thought. As he approached the house, passing a For Sale sign, he noticed a woman with a perfect body and jet black hair standing halfway around the house. From the front yard, he asked, “Can I help you?”
Amy turned around quickly. She had been so surprised by the vines on the house, she hadn’t been paying attention. Her first thought when she saw him was, ’Poser’. “Yes, I am the realtor you called about the house.” He pointed to the plants and asked, “Old man had a thing for vegetation?” She said, “I don’t know. They weren’t there last week.”
She handed him her phone, he paged through the pictures. So in disbelief was he that he actually hit the details button to make sure they weren’t from a year ago or something. She told him, “No offers yet. I have a two o’clock appointment, the house is empty.” He checked her out on her walk to her car, as she told him, “The vines might make a sale more difficult.” As she drove off, he looked to see where the cheapest clothing store might be. As he did so, he cursed his uncle for planting the stupid vines. He stopped at the police station on his way out of town. He hadn’t brung clothes that could get dirty, Chief Schaefer handed him his belongings. Scott was a serious a-hole until he saw his uncle’s bank records and had the rolls of cash in his pockets.
He wanted the house sold. Changing in his uncle’s house, he put on the dollar shirt and shorts. His shirt messed his hair so he had to fix it in his uncle’s bathroom mirror. He regretted not buying gloves. He began to sweat as he ripped the vines from the house. His hands started to itch almost immediately. In the vines, he found the skeletal remains of a small dog. The vines had wrapped around it, like inside and out. He thought, ’That’s weird’.
The day before Heather had been dozing, or at least trying to. Reba wouldn’t stop moving underneath the sheets. The dog moved slowly. Twice Heather smacked her, saying, “Knock it off”.
When Heather took men in her bed, she would always make sure it was dark. That way they didn’t see that she liked to cut herself. On each leg she had cut marks and scars on the tops of her thighs. Although her legs were very attractive, she didn’t want anyone to know about it.
The dog kept making noise. Every time she was about to doze off, she heard that noise again, like the sheets were rubbing against themselves. She finally sat up and tossed the sheets off of her. Reba wasn’t moving; there were vines coming out of her eyes, her mouth and her anus. The vines extended from the dog and had attached to Heather’s legs. She screamed while jumping out of bed and backing away, the dog dragged with her. It flopped off the bed and followed her.
She backed into the bathroom and moaned as she pulled the vines from her legs. It really hurt. She bunched it all up to get it out of the house. Walking outside, she tossed all of it onto the vines next door. She took a shower and scrubbed her legs till they bled. She then bandaged them up again.
During her shower, she caught herself drinking the warm water. In her fridge were two large cartons of orange juice. Before she realized it, she had drunk both of them, ’I’m dying of thirst,’ she thought.
The following day she saw a really good-looking guy at the neighbor’s house, pulling the vines down and stuffing them in the garbage can. She got dressed up and made herself available. As she approached him, it started to rain softly. He was examining his hands; there were red marks on them. It was the way she said, “Let’s get you out of those wet clothes,” that got his attention. He followed into her house.
Father Zimmerman had held a service at the old folks home for the old fogies that couldn’t walk anymore. Although he referred to them as ‘fogies’, he had nothing but respect for his elders. At 44, he knew he’d be one of them eventually. Parking the car, he saw vines growing across the parking lot. They weren’t far into the lot, just a few feet. It perplexed him because when he had left an hour and a half ago, he could have sworn they hadn’t been there, ’Nothing grows that fast,’ he thought. He took a picture with his phone and went inside the St. Mary’s Church, using the back door.
Although Herbie was super mad, Luis had to call in sick for a few more days. Luis sat in Dr. Wong’s office in the waiting room, big white bandages on his hands when a nurse in a white uniform poked her head out the door and said, “The Doctor will see you now.”
On the examination table Dr. Wong removed the bandages. He recognized that the rash on Luis looked exactly like the red marks that were on Alice’s hands. Mad at himself, he thought, ’I knew that wasn’t an allergic reaction. Why didn’t I send in samples?’
“And how long have your hands been like this?” Dr. Wong asked
“Since Tuesday night.”
“Do you have any allergies?”
“Not a one, Doc.”
Dr. Wong took some blood work and had the nurse send it off to the lab. Just to be safe, he prescribed heavy anti-biotics and topical hand cream, then wrote a note so Luis wouldn’t be penalized at work. As Luis left the waiting room, prescription in his pocket, he passed Bill and Karen. Leaving he almost tripped on the green tennis balls on the bottom of Bills walker.
When Doctor Wong examined Karen’s hands, he put a rush on her blood work and gave Chief Schaefer a call. He wanted to see his Alice’s hands again. He was told she couldn’t be in until next Monday.
Later back at the house, their prescription would be dropped off soon. Bill waited on the porch, his stomach felt funny. He saw someone had pulled some of the vines off the Professor’s house. The ones up the trees had been left alone and they swayed in the wind. The vines had grown along the grass and down into the sewer grate. He looked from the vines to the windsock in the front yard. The windsock sat motionless. He then looked at the vines swaying in the wind and said, “There is no wind”. He stuck his finger in his mouth and held it in the air. Nothing. “How could plants move on their own?” Inside the house, his wife said, “What did you say?” He was about to reply when a car pulled up and a lady got out. She had a white bag in her hand, Bill said to Karen, “Nothing honey. Your medicine is here.”