Graphite marred the well-worn door frame. Edwin plopped little Micah in front of the lovingly graffitied frame and made the customary mark at the top of his head. With all the little darlings who’d passed through his home, he was running out of doorways. He gave Micah’s tiny head a tiny pat.
Through a heavily mustached mouth, Edwin enthusiastically said, “Three whole inches! Right on track.”
Micah wiggled a gleeful dance as Edwin picked him back up and placed him in his cozy spot near the large glass window. His baby brethren greeted him with giggles and squeals. Early in the morning, the spot provided ample sunlight and a wide-open view of the backyard where Micah’s older siblings played. Edwin measured Morgan, Mariah, Marvin, and Mortimer one at a time. He always returned them to the spot under the window with a warm smile and words of encouragement.
Sun warmed the soft, squishy bed the five M’s wiggled on. A clear blue sky allowed cheerful rays of light to shine on them as they learned how their bodies moved and visually explored their new world. Soon enough, they’d be big and strong and able to join their family frolicking out in the backyard.
The backyard lay safely between the house and three gargantuan, wooden fence walls. Inside, the grass grew wild and tall. Large, leafy plants sprawled out in every direction. Bushy trees guarded the corners of the yard, vibrant and a haven from the heat. Lenore, Lucy, and Lem huddled together in the center of the lush wonderland. New to the outside, they still stumbled and took awkward, comical steps. However, after months rooted firmly indoors, the trio gladly fumbled around their newfound freedom.
Somewhere near the shadiest - in more ways than one - bit of fence, Jewel, Jenny, Jericho, and Jeremiah played amongst the oversized foliage. Leaves provided cover as they hid from each other. Stalking bugs, and trying to prove they were all grown up. Even though they still had much more growing to do.
In a far corner, standing as straight and tall as possible stood Doreen, Dela, and Drake. They watched as their siblings played. They chittered back and forth and they dreamed of life outside the fence. They heard voices not belonging to them or Edwin beyond the barrier. They saw balls fly in the air and heard strange noises neither they nor Edwin could properly imitate. Gruff sounds, short and loud. Some high pitched, some low. Sometimes, when they pleaded, Edwin tried his best to make these sounds. The siblings loved his silliness. They broke their brooding nature and laughed raucously, but it wasn’t the same sound.
Edwin told them of life outside and why he forbade it. They knew the rules, the rhetoric, but their hearts rebelled. Alva, Astrid, Adam, and Alfie repeated Edwin’s words to the nearly grown trio, but in a way, only one of their own knew how to convey. Edwin loved them and cared for them, and they, in turn, loved him. But some things, only the siblings could teach each other. Only someone who lived through the same trials, the same thoughts and quandaries, battled the same urges, held the power to convince you to trust what you’re told. Especially when everything else in you strained against its cage, begging you to do the opposite.
Corrine and Corra currently suffered one of those trials, in the glass house. Edwin called it their “quaran-time”. The D’s watched from afar, as they too would soon go through it. More time would pass before the L’s endured it and much more time before the M’s. Sure enough, though, each group braved their quaran-time. Corrine and Corra looked miserable. Not as many plants lived in the glass house, and no grass anywhere. The air stood hot and stiff with only a slight breeze where the roof sat a few inches above the walls. But they got more food and the A’s assured everyone that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Plus, it was a time necessary for Edwin’s safety and for their maturity.
The sun rose high in the sky, radiantly shining down on the yard and all its inhabitants. Like clockwork, delicious smells flowed from the main house and into the yard. Near the window, the smell woke the tiny M’s, exhausted from play. The L’s sprang out of hiding and the D’s left their sulking behind. The C’s, frenzied with hunger but weak from the turmoil of rapid growth, clambered towards the glass house door. As always, the A’s ushered everyone to the long table on the back porch. With a practiced calmness, they saw that everyone was present and found a seat before taking their own.
Heat stifled the house as Edwin cooked over the stove, frequently wiping sweat from his brow. Each passing day seemingly grew more laborious, but he never faltered. He loved his home and his yard, he delighted in cooking, and above all, he loved his little darlings. Nothing, no matter how tedious, how difficult, could unhinge that feeling.
Edwin loaded up tray after tray with foods small and large, hot and juicy. First, he brought crumbles of bacon and sausage to the tiny, watering mouths of the M’s. Next, he took three trays of sliced tenderloin, pork cutlets, and loaves of beef, all rare, to the long table. Lastly, a tray each went to Corrine and Corra, piled high with mounds of bloody steaks and ribs. He designed the glass house with a locked slot large enough to slide the trays through. As per routine, Corrine and Corra stood firm against the opposite wall as Edwin unlocked the slot and slid the food in. Once he secured the lock again, the pair shambled as fast as possible towards the meat.
Not long after, Edwin collected the trays and cleaned them before spending time with each age group. He checked their progress, their health, and participated in an activity of their choosing. The L’s preferred hide and seek while the D’s spewed forth endless questions. The sun, on the verge of starting its nightly descent, still shined strong, though Edwin did not feel the same way. He used to be able to play until dark, but well…times changed.
So he found a cozy chair and pulled the M’s close. They were nearly as tired as him but did everything in their power to convince him otherwise. He acted oblivious to their yawns and waning attention and convinced them to cuddle up as he read a story. The five curled up on their cozy bed and listened to an odd story about delicious piggies who they would not, for an unknown reason, get to eat.
Well before complete darkness, the M’s and Edwin drifted to sleep.
In the backyard, everyone else huddled together in the dying light. They always ended the day near the glass house. A constant glow emitted from a tiny sun Edwin called a lamp, and other devices kept the area “heatered”. The A’s watched over everyone as they settled in when a thump from the fence caught their attentions. The entire group immediately stopped their rustling and chatting and focused on the fence.
“Watch it!” they heard a strange voice shout.
“Shh!” came another voice, “That’s the weird place. Watch where you throw that.”
Despite the warning, a few seconds later a small disc floated over the fence. The siblings, consumed with confusion and curiosity, exchanged glances with one another. Doreen started towards the object when Alva cautioned her back.
“Now you did it!” a voice cried, startling the siblings.
“Stop whining,” came the disinterested reply, “Help me over the fence.”
Over the fence? The siblings murmured together. Sure the A’s could nearly see above the top, but not even they could go over it.
“No!” squeaked the opposer, “Mom said we need to go knock on a door to get permission.”
“This is quicker. Just help me,” the stronger voice demanded.
Soon, feet thudded against the fence followed by scratching and scrambling.
“Both of you help. You gotta boost my feet!”
Fingers, smaller and smoother than Edwin’s peeked over the top of the fence.
The siblings crept forward. The chill air stung, but the smell lured them. The A’s recognized the reality of Edwin’s lessons confronted them now. Time to practice what they learned. They’d grown up with lessons of resisting the urge. Now, with their first-ever real encounter, they didn’t know if they’d be able to help themselves. Feet scrambled on the wood as the kid hooked his armpits over the top. The siblings froze halfway to the fence, a macabre parody of red-light green-light. The boy swung himself over and dropped inside the yard.
“Ow!” he yelped, catching splinters on his way.
“What do you see?” a voice breathy with excitement asked from the other side.
The kid scanned the yard. With the high fence and the low sun, shadows shielded everything, “It’s just a bunch of plants. Like, a lot.”
A tiny drop of blood trickled from his palm as he removed a sharp piece of wood. The teen looked around for his frisbee, and, eyes finding it, he moved with purpose. He bent down to pick it up and a loud rustling startled him. He jumped and looked around.
“Stupid,” he admonished himself, stamping down his fear, “it’s just a bunch of plants.”
He picked up his frisbee and turned to look for a way out. Curiosity gripped him though when he saw lights coming from the glass house. Inside stood two plants taller than he’d ever seen. Their stems swayed back and forth, and what appeared to be giant mouths snapped at the air. They looked like mammoth versions of the venus fly traps in his science class.
“Cool!” he breathed and walked toward the glass house. He pressed his hands against the glass and stared wide-eyed at the peculiar plants. They stood as tall as him and moved in unnerving ways, ways a plant shouldn’t move. The scene disturbed and fascinated him. Blood from his hand smeared the glass and the plants snapped forward again. Roots lifted out of the ground and gaping mouths filled with spindly, spikey, teeth-like objects bit at the glass. The boy leaped backward. His foot snagged a vine causing him to fall on his back. Tiny stings immediately nipped at his ankles. Thinking he landed in some thorns, he quickly attempted to stand up. More vines and piercing bits gripped his wrists and pulled him back down. Panic flooded him and he struggled to take calm breaths. Cold sweat distorted his vision as he struggled to see what held him. It's only plants, he kept telling himself. Get a grip and just tear them off.
However, smaller versions of the glass house plants swarmed him, covering his legs and chomping down. He twisted and squirmed, managing to get to his knees. Suddenly, his vision turned completely black. Light shone in his periphery, but directly before him remained a mystery. A shadow against the dying light. Slowly, his eyes focused on a deep green, stripy stem, thicker than his torso. He followed the stem upward, tilting his head back until he could go no further. Staring down at him, eyeless and menacing, was the absolute largest foliage he could imagine - besides a tree.
The carnivorous plant lowered her head - pretty much all mouth - to meet his. Alva let loose an otherworldly cry, high shrieks mixed with low undulations. His eyes met a gaping maw, blood red and lined with teeth the length of his forearm. Spittle flew out from sacks lining the fold in the back of her mouth, landing on the boy. His skin burned as his wheezing breaths finally gave way to a primal scream, the only thing he could do as Alva and her siblings swarmed their fresh dessert.