Usually the sun woke Paul up, but today it was the commotion outside.
Through binoculars he watched a gruff man take a backpack of scavenged food. Judging by the child who watched a short distance away, she was a mother.
The man pulled a pistol on her, but was stopped when a swarm of undead came at them. It looked to Paul like the entire planet had lost their minds.
Despite the ongoing apocalypse; Paul considered himself lucky. No doubt he hated these times; just as bad as the stories had always depicted. But his grandfather owned a gardening shop with a surplus of produce plants.
He moved them all to the attic and didn’t leave again. Unlike others, he didn’t have to rob or kill to survive. He was perfectly safe.
Awakened, Paul began his morning routine. After rising, he filled up a tin watering can in the faucet. As it drizzled in, he added another tally mark on the wall. After two months his calendar had expired and he resorted to keeping the date manually.
Two months plus three-hundred and four tallies. It was November again, an entire year.
He made his rounds to water each plant in the attic. While the water dripped from the leaves, he hummed the tune of a song he never knew the lyrics to.
In his head he was firmly assuring himself that it wasn’t a bad thing that he’d been in the attic for a year. Not only was he protected from the outside world, but he was perfectly entertained too!
Upon arrival he found that his grandfather had a shelf full of books stored away. He thanked God again for how lucky he was, then proceeded with his daily routine.
With not much else to do beside water plants, he read through the entire bookshelf. He’d nearly forgotten; he was on the last chapter of the final book. The story was of a princess living in a castle where her family and staff started going missing.
Paul finished the final chapter; the princess in fear for her life, left the castle. After finishing his books, he would tell his friends all about it. Socializing was an essential need, after all.
“-and she realizes there’s less to fear on the outside than in her very own home. Don’t you find that so evocative, Tom?” he asked his best friend, the tomato plant.
If Tom had eyes, he was rolling them right now, “That book isn’t so great. There was no way for the princess to prove she would die if she stayed.”
“Actually, I’ve been thinking I might go out. There’s a library down the road, you know? I can get something new to read.”
“Absolutely not.” Tom said in a voice of rigid stone, “You already have all those books over there you can read.”
Paul was uncertain if Tom was pointing at the bookshelf, or if the wind just blew his branch to look that way.
“But I’ve read all of those seven times.” Paul laughed while sweat trickled down his back, “Remember how I told you this ending months ago?”
“You’re imagining that. You’ve never read that book before. You know what you’re like Paul, with that overactive imagination.” Tom said in a stern voice.
“Right.” Paul agreed, disagreeing in his mind where Tom couldn’t hear.
“In fact, toss that silly princess book out the window. It’s negatively impacting your mental state.” Tom commanded.
Paul went to the open window and chucked the book right at an undead. Hitting her in the face and busting her jaw off with the impact. She growled at him and he laughed. He threw it at her on purpose.
Thinking over the conversation- the imaginary one with his plant, caused him to have dreams of going to the library. The next morning, he rose with the sun.
“You’re right Tom. I’m completely safe up here.” he stretched his arms to the ceiling, “If I went out I’d have to deal with people and all those other apocalypse shenanigans. I don’t want that!”
It was all a farce. If Tom or any of the others knew what he was planning, they’d be enraged.
Without refilling the watering can, he added another tally to the wall. One year, one day.
“I’m so glad you’ve come to your senses. Here, have a tomato.” his green friend said, offering the fruit from his vine.
Paul thanked him and ate the sour tomato. Tom cleared his throat, Paul ignored it. Echoing around him, every plant in the room began to loudly and obnoxiously do the same. Wearily, he took his eyes from the floor to look at the plants.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Tom asked.
Rose spoke next, “My soil is a tad parched.”
Shit, he thought, they were onto him. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves. It was only a matter of time until they dried out. A dry plant was a dead plant and a dead plant couldn’t speak.
He’d ignore them and carry on like usual. Paul grabbed the first book on the shelf. Maybe the eighth time was the charm?
Eighth time was not the charm.
He was sick of every one of these books.
“Gee Tom, I thought it’d be hard to read this book, but I know the whole plot without even opening it.” he snarked, showing the plant he knew it was a liar, “Knowing the whole plot makes me want to leave, so I guess I’ll toss it out the window!”
He threw the book at an undead and went back to the shelf.
“And these ones too. Might as well toss them out because I’m so bored of them!”
Paul aggravated an entire horde of undead with his violent throwing.
The whole shelf was empty. A crash resounded from the main floor. A hoard had broken down the front door.
Shuffling feet moved into the shop. Each set of feet paired with snarl. A cacophony of growling was raised by the dead.
That noise manifested like a physical beast which passed through the floor. Claws out, grating at his soul. Without a word to distract him, he could not stand it a second longer.
He dashed to the window. He had to go! The plants wouldn’t let him.
As he placed his hand upon the sill, Rose firmly whipped him with her thorny fingers.
“You’re safe here.” she said, “You can’t leave or you’ll be killed.”
He had to wait for them to die. Sat in the room's center with his hands pressed over his ears, he was left to feel the gurgling vibration of the floor.
After a minute that felt like hours, Paul found that the vibrations rattled his nerves even more.
“Shears would make this a lot easier.” he said as he stood up and walked over to Rose.
“W-What do you mean?” she asked, “Why do you have that look in your eyes?”
Paul dug his hands into the soil and uprooted the rose plant. Rose made a bloodcurdling scream. Kicking over the pot left dirt all over the floor.
He did this with every other plant. Tearing them from the ground. Ripping their leaves off the vines as they yelled out in pain. Begging him to stop.
The room was a mess of foliage and dirt. One tomato plant remained. Paul lunged at him and tackled him to the floor.
“Stop it!” Tom pleaded.
Paul raised his fist. Plunging it straight at one of the tomatoes. Then another, and another.
The floor underneath Tom was covered in a murky red and brown mixture. Same of which that covered Paul’s knuckles. He aimed his last punch at the remaining tomato.
Stop it, he imagined Tom say.
This was his last source of food, if he destroyed it he’d starve to death.
In the moment of clarity, he realized what he’d done. Gazing around the room, every plant uprooted. Tears bit at his eyes.
He stood and picked up the tomato plant. The window was open and he left through it.
Landing in a mushroom patch that wasn’t there before, open air surrounded him. Behind him, he looked at his grandfather’s gardening shop. Ironic that after living in that very place for a year, he’d forgotten what it looked like.
The library was just down the street. The fresh air and new material would hopefully slow down the eminent madness.
Just down the street. His heart thumped as fast as it had that whole year.
What could go wrong?