Fantasy Teens & Young Adult Drama

Ferny and I had been sent, yet again, down to Mel’s Garden World. It was just a couple of brown spots on my flesh, and, frankly, I didn’t see what the big fuss was about. But “Overprotective” really should be Denzel’s middle name. I’d made that observation to Ferny on the drive over, and she’d retorted, ‘Yeah, that, or “Crazy.”’ After a second, she’d added, ‘Not that I’m objecting, you understand. He’s always been good to us. But. You know.’

Once the day’s last bag of mulch, last wooden stake, and last pot, pansy and pair of pruning shears had been sold, the doors were closed and locked. The cashier asked Mel if she needed a hand, but the offer was gratefully declined. The three salespeople from out in the main plants and garden supplies area had changed out of their overalls and gumboots and popped their heads into the shop where they good-byed the boss, then exited stage left, the last one switching off most of the lights as per routine. Mel was humming happily over by the work-desk, separating and re-potting a variety of bulbs, but eventually she came over to the till area. She bagged up the cash and filled in the paper-based shop journal that she still insisted on doing as a backup to the computerized till’s automated accounting software, then bent over to look down at Ferny and myself, sitting calmly on the bench under the till. She put us on the counter next to it, picked me up, and walked over to where she was directly under one of the few lights left on in the shop. Took her glasses off, and held me up to her face for inspection.

‘You’re fine Cacty,’ Mel said, mostly to herself, though I liked to imagine it was partly to me. ‘Brown spots, nothing to worry about. Yet. He’s probably been overwatering you again.’

‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ I said sardonically, loud enough for Ferny to hear over by the till.

‘Not to worry, sweetheart,’ Mel said, with genuine affection – which I appreciated, even though she was only human, and not able to hear or talk with Ferny and I in normal speech. ‘I’ll remind him again. I better also remind him to avoid the insecticide too, just in case he was thinking about it. You don’t have any spider-mites on you this time, but…’

‘God, don’t even mention the word “insecticide,” lady,’ Ferny called from over by the till.

‘Or “spider-mites!” I added fervently.

Mel walked over and deposited me on the counter again, and picked up Ferny, walking again back over to the light. ‘Ooh Ferny!’ she said, exasperated. ‘You’ve a couple more brown leaves again. Not to worry though.’ She continued to inspect Ferny for a while, then popped her back next to me and went to get the secateurs.

‘Yowch!’ Ferny cried after the first cut. ‘Geesh, lady, how about sharpening them shears?’ Then, as Mel made four more little snips, she “eeked” and “yowched” a few more times.

Mel put the cash in the safe and locked up. As she got into her tiny little EV and scooted off, I said to Ferny, ‘So, tonight’s the big night. Who’ll get the better of it this time d’you reckon?’

Ferny was obviously still a little tender. She said, sulkily, ‘I don’t care. Just let me transpire in peace.’

‘Ah come on, my friend,’ I said, knowing a chat would take her mind off it. ‘This is the biggest challenge yet. Cal’s prized recipe book! I never thought Denzel would be able to pinch it in the first place, but the theft was perfect.’

Ferny hmphed and stayed silent. I knew she’d be thinking about the old rivalry though. We knew the pair’s animosity towards each other dated back to their school days, but were a little surprised the two of them had managed to string their eternal sparring competition along for so long. They’d both be hitting the big five oh next year. Both had done well with their careers, from certain points of view. Couldn’t they just bury the hatchet?

Denzel, our human, was the more eccentric of the two, whilst also having the better head for business. He had invested in forestry and a paper mill, and though the world seemed to be going increasingly electronic, there seemed to be very little diminishing in demand for paper, and he did incredibly well. He still had a small stake in that, which he kept an eagle eye on, but these days he was most involved in running a very exclusive chain of hotels, catering to security-obsessed billionaires. He was one of them, and lived in his own flagship hotel here in New York.

Cal had always been the debonaire socialite in his younger days. It was my belief that he got into cat burglary because he’d gotten bored of living the spoilt trust-fund kid’s life, and even the extreme sports he’d gotten into in his teens and twenties just weren’t cutting it – though they doubtless gave him the agility that had gotten him in and out of the Keane Gallery fifteen years ago, when he’d pulled off the successful Philerson Rubies heist. He’d had one stretch in prison, true – the one prior time Denzel had actually caught Cal in the act of purloining a prized part of his collection of valuable oddities. But otherwise, he’d never been caught, and, even then, his connections had ensured he’d done the minimum possible time.

‘Hey, Ferny,’ I called out. ‘Cal will definitely be going for the recipe book, right?’

Ferny took a minute to get herself together, then said, ‘Come on, man, I was just getting my meditation on!’

‘Oh, sorry. But…?’

‘Doubtless. That was only the second time in their whole stupid pinching-stuff-and-trying-to-steal-it-back thing that Denzel was the thief. And the only time he was successful. Every other time he’s been the guardian. The pinchee, if you will.’

‘Hmm,’ I agreed. ‘And, from the sounds of it, Cal really wants it back. Quite apart from how valuable it is, he loves that insanely expensive soup he makes from it. Something Surprise. He really should’ve made a copy of the recipe, I guess.’

I yawned, my stomata dilating just a little. It was getting late. We both got into our meditation mode thing we’d been trying in the evenings lately, and increased our transpiration rates.

‘There you go Ferny, Cacty. All watered and back on your favourite windowsill after your visit to Mel’s. I trust you’re both feeling a lot better now? Good! Now, I must catch you up on what’s been happening around here!’

Denzel had picked us up mid-morning, and now he’d gotten us back to the hotel, was obviously looking forward to sharing the story with us. Once he’d put us in our usual spot in his secret monitoring room, he closed and locked the vault-like door, then put on the kettle. As he was pottering around, he raised his voice a little. ‘You know the recipe-book I got a year ago? The one with his favourite recipe - the “Simpson’s Surprise” soup? I knew Cal would try and get it back, and he broke into the place last night!’

Denzel twisted his moustaches as the kettle began to bubble. He put a glug of drink syrup into his favourite mug, then poured in the hot water. Once he’d blown on and sipped at his hot lemon, ginger, and honey drink, he walked back over to us, put the drink on its coaster, and sank into his favourite chair. ‘I’m sorry Ferny, Cacty, I forgot. Of course, you guys know all about Cal and I already. But I… I don’t even know where to begin.’ Denzel wobbled his knees from side to side, as he did when he was agitated, until he knocked them together. Then, rubbing his knees, said, looking over at Ferny, ‘I know, Ferny, I know! You guys are both well aware that nothing that happens in this building is outside my purview!’ He looked over towards the monitor, which was set to display a security review. He had visual and auditory bugs in every part of the building except the guests’ rooms, and an AI that ran constant analyses on the data that was being gathered around the clock. But Denzel still kept an eye on the reports himself semi-regularly.

He suddenly turned back to Ferny and I. ‘It was so obvious when he turned up. Sure, he’d done his homework. The disguise, as one of the friends of the Benjamins, down on level four, was accurate enough to fool the AI. But still obvious to me. In fact, I suspected, when he got into the level four security node and “deactivated,” the building’s security, it was a double-bluff. Surely he knew it wouldn’t be that easy? Surely he knew I was still monitoring him? I was sweating right then. But I played along, giving his pathetic jamming-and-redirecting-signals-apparatus the impression that he’d succeeded in circumventing my systems. Turns out I needn’t have worried.’ Suddenly Denzel was all smiles, and he broke out into one of his maniacal laughs.

‘Oh Lordy,’ Ferny muttered to me under her breath. ‘He must’ve been successful. He’s in one of those moods.’


Denzel felt relief flood through him as he reflected for the thousandth time on the previous evening’s outcome. So many of his priceless antiques and collectibles had been removed by that ridiculous poseur over the years. And he’d only had enough hard evidence to get Cal nailed just that one time. Agitated, Denzel got up out of his chair, glanced briefly at the security display on his monitor, then started pacing around the room. He sometimes imagined Cacty and Ferny judged him for staying mad at Cal, and not trying to make amends. But he couldn’t fault them for that. They had his best interests at heart. They just didn’t know what Cal had done to him.

‘Well, perhaps it’s time I told you,’ Denzel mumbled to his pot-plants. ‘It’s a bit embarrassing in a way. I suppose that’s why I haven’t before. But, well…’ Denzel’s face went bright red, and he felt his shirt sticking to his back. He turned towards Cacty and Ferny, and clasped his hands together, fingers laced in pleading. ‘Please don’t judge me until you hear the whole story.’ He stood still for a moment while he calmed himself, then paced forward to his chair. Sat. Then sipped gingerly at his drink, put his head in his hands and spoke to the floor. ‘I think our mothers became friends when the two of us joined kindergarten together. I was the taller of the two of us, and I think I was rather rough with him. But he never cried or lashed out, even though we must’ve been about four or five. Mother told me that the two of us were friends, and I accepted that. Our families got together regularly, and we’d play, and…’ Denzel became uncomfortable again, but somehow pushed on. ‘Well, we’d usually end up fighting, Cal would come off worst, and I’d get a telling off from mother in her it-doesn’t-really-matter tone of voice. And I guess I assumed… everything was fine and normal. You know?’

Denzel looked at his pot-plants from under brows knotted in concern. They looked back. He got back up and began his pacing again. ‘That’s not how things stayed though. I started fixing bikes, making electronic gadgets, getting into computers. I remained taller than Cal, but as we grew, he beat me in every other way. He was strong, handsome, had massive family wealth, and an easy and winning way with all the guys at school – and the girls. And, though he hardly seemed to study, he always seemed to beat me when a particularly important exam came along. I got As in Biology, but Cal always seemed to pick up an A+. I got a new bike once, and thought it would be a hit at school. And it was – for one day. The next, Cal showed up on a new skateboard, and wowed all the kids with his daredevil moves.’ Denzel sighed, sipped at his drink, and got up. He grabbed a pinch of fertilizer and added a little to the pot of each of Ferny and Cacty, then sat back down again.

‘Anyway,’ Denzel said to them, ‘I suppose I threw the first real punch in our “game.” Cal started going out with this girl I had a crush on. He didn’t even like her, but was just doing it to spite me, and I stole his bike in retribution. It was crossing a line, but what he’d done was just so…’ Denzel squeezed his eyes shut as though to force the memory away. ‘One of the other kids saw me though, and told Cal, but instead of telling the teachers, he just stole it back – from our locked garage. Never found out how he did that. Just a note saying, “Victory is mine.” Then, on the anniversary of that night, he broke in again, and stole my computer. He even showed me the pieces of it at school the next day. Of course I reported him, but when they searched his bag, the pieces were gone.’


Ferny and I gave each other a knowing look. We could see that Denzel was getting worked up again. His fists banged on the chair’s armrests violently, and he shouted, ‘It’s so unfair!’ then, unusually for him, instantly calmed down again. ‘Anyway,’ he said, looking over at the two of us before turning away and speaking to the room, ‘It’s been happening ever since. On the same anniversary day every year, he tries to steal something precious from me, and almost every year he succeeds. I’d had enough!’

Denzel sprang to his feet, and walked over to the “window.” This secret monitoring room was internal, and surrounded by concrete and steel, but he’d had an extremely expensive high-definition monitor installed to simulate a window with an outside view. The “window” was comprised of millions of LEDs that perfectly matched the spectrum of natural light, while displaying a real time view of the city via a live feed. With Moon Audio speakers, and the new olfactory nodes he’d installed last year, and a powerful, yet silent, de/humidifying system – not to mention the twelve-foot ceilings – the room was kept in a remarkable verisimilitude of an expensive upper-management skyscraper office looking out through an open window towards the city, and the sea out beyond it. Our human just stood and stared at it for some time. Eventually he started talking again.

‘You guys are lucky,’ he said quietly. ‘You don’t have to worry about all the crud we humans do.’ He sighed. ‘I’m just glad that…’

After a short pause he turned again to face Ferny and I, and said warmly, ‘I love you guys. You always have my best interests at heart. You don’t give me problems like pretty much every other human being on the face of the planet does.’ He paused briefly, then added reluctantly, ‘Other than Mel, I suppose.’

Mel was at least ten years his senior, but I started to wonder whether something was happening there. But there wasn’t much time to wonder. Denzel had started to smile again. He said to us, ‘Sorry about all that. Anyway, where was I? Ah. Right. As I said, I’d had enough. That’s why I pinched the famous recipe book of his last year. And, so, umm, anyway…’ Denzel tapped his teeth, scratched his cheek, then sat down.

‘Cal had “deactivated” my security,’ he said. ‘Of course, I kept monitoring him as he made his way up the elevator shaft. He somehow got through my lift-lock, which I’ll definitely have to investigate, and then crept up the corridor like a comic-book character.' He laughed, took another sip of his drink, and set it back down on its coaster.

‘No, don’t worry Cacty, I was never in any danger. Look, I’m here aren’t I? Relax, my friend.’ Denzel looked over at Ferny. ‘Yes, he did make it into my suite. You look shocked! But never fear. Though he saw the recipe book in the lounge, I hadn’t made it too easy for him. It was inside a bulletproof glass case. And then… well… I let him have it! I had to deactivate the alarm on the case myself – the fool obviously hadn’t realized it was even there. And, no Cacty, he never realized that it was I who allowed him to get his hands on the key and entry-code to my suite in the first place!’

Denzel got up, stroked Ferny and myself lovingly – ignoring the small prickle he got from me (oops, sorry there my friend) – and grabbed the apartment systems remote. He turned the light up a little, then sat down, adjusting the humidity up a bit. There was a gleam in his eye as he looked right at me.

‘Crazy, you say, Cacty? Ha! Crazy like a fox! This whole thing’s a game, remember? Who’s come away with the one-upmanship trophy this time, huh?’ Denzel noticed the look on Ferny’s face, and, addressing her, said, ‘No, no, let me explain. The book Cal stole was a duplicate I’d constructed. Identical in every way – except two. First, when he makes the soup with that recipe, he’s going to get quite the surprise!’ Denzel cackled to himself for some time. We waited patiently for him to get himself under control.

Denzel looked back at Ferny, ‘The second change? Oh, nothing much... except when he reads the introduction – which he probably won’t – but if he does, he’ll see it’s been subtly changed so that if he takes the first letter of every sentence, it now reads, “Not this time Cal. Victory is mine!”’

March 28, 2024 07:57

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Laurie Spellman
21:36 Apr 25, 2024

Great story! Loved the plant characters 🌵🌵🌵


09:42 May 07, 2024

Hi Laurie. Thanks for reading and commenting. I wish I could still update this, but it closes for edits after a short time. I've revisited the story and made about 100 or more edits since then, and I think it works better overall now. Not that I don't like this. This is still the core of what happens. But, you know...


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Annie Hewitt
11:03 Apr 06, 2024

I liked the plant characters but they don't seem to have much to do other than listen. Perhaps a little more into their world would've been nice. Some very good writing overall and good development of the back story for their ongoing feud. One small grammar correction if you don't mind: "...the window was comprised of millions..." -- the correct choice is 'composed of millions of LEDs.' It's never 'comprised of'. Compose makes up the whole and comprise contains parts. It can be "the window comprises millions of LEDs" or "the window is compos...


20:37 Apr 06, 2024

Hi Annie. Thanks for taking the time to reed and provide feedback. I will read up on comprised vs composed. My feeling is that "comprised" is an acceptable option here, but I will check that out. I don't begrudge your nitpicking grammar though. I think that's important, in case I did actually get something incorrect. I agree with your statement that the two pot-plants, whilst they are ostensibly the narrators, and, as such, deserve a story arc of their own. Note the comment to that effect in my reply to Michael, below. To be fair, as...


Annie Hewitt
12:39 Apr 07, 2024

FYI, I would suggest Gregg’s or Strunk & White for grammar rules and not Wiktionary to find correct grammar rules. Just a recommendation


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Michael Maceira
12:18 Apr 04, 2024

Funnily enough, I was already writing feedback on your story when I saw I drew your name for the Critique Circle. I love this prompt of writing from the POV of a non-human object. My wife and I have been watching Life on Our Planet on Netflix, and plants are featured heavily. It has shifted my understanding of how "alive" plants are. That being said, having plants as characters adds layers of development to this story that grabbed me in the beginning. Especially with other characters who talk to them; my wife is trying her hand at horticul...


23:14 Apr 04, 2024

Thanks for reading and for your feedback. To be honest, I had a very tiny story idea written up already - like 600 words or something - when I saw this competition. That small early version was from the POV of Denzel - but the fact that he was eccentric, and talked to his plants made me think about them as "people," which led to me thinking it would be easy enough to lengthen the story and change the POV to be from one of the pot-plants' points of view. In fact, the one thing I'm slightly unhappy with now, in hindsight, as that the first ...


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Mary Bendickson
13:35 Apr 02, 2024

Cool as a cucumber. Those two can keep secrets.


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Helen A Smith
16:41 Apr 01, 2024

Fun story. I love Cacty and Ferny. Even though they get to hear everything they manage to retain their essential and rather appealing qualities. So much for their attempts at meditation to help them “transpire.” I liked the setting and characters. Very cool.


22:00 Apr 01, 2024

Thanks for reading my story Helen, and I appreciate your taking the time to leave a comment.


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