This story is inspired by and dedicated to my monstrous six foot plus cherry tomato plants to whom I like to say: STOP GROWING YOU’VE ALREADY REACHED THE CEILING.
Warnings mean nothing to you.
Why? Because you’re fearless? Brave beyond comparison?
No, you have no sense of consequences for your actions.
This was the reason why you entered the ‘Lil Shop of Curiosities.
It was a shabby shack with a little wooden “Come In. We’re Open” sign in the middle of the woods with knicks-knacks and what’s-thats? of every shape and size inside. And plants. Oh, boy were there plants. Purple wisterias, cypress vines, climbing hydrangeas, bougainvilleas, clematis, golden hops—all with vines that curled into every small space the shack had to offer. It had a real, Little Shop of Horrors meets Mystery Shack vibe going on and you kind of dug it.
But the most important, the most important thing in that shack were the flowers. While nearly every plant bloomed a unique blossom, they weren’t the stars of the show. On the walls—in between the windows and painted portraits of flowers—and ceiling, hanging upside down were flowers drying. Already dried flowers rested in crystal vases on nearly every surface available and some even rested on plants, held in place by curled vines. You haven’t seen this much green since Pot Pam moved out of your apartment.
The only non-planted related thing in the shack was a life-sized wax figurine of a man with a bearded braided with dried daisies and a jar filled with green goop hanging on the edge of a string necklace. Without warning, the wax figurine moved and your paranoia already imagined it being cursed, killing you, and burying you outside to become fertilizer for the plants.
Defensively, you took a step back and held up your hands to shield your face. “Don’t kill me,” you cried, “I don’t eat a balanced diet. There is nothing nutritious about me. I haven’t even seen a vegetable since ‘09. I sweat grease. Your plants would die if you used me as a fertilizer.”
The wax figurine chuckled and walked up to you. “Loyal customer, I’m not going to kill you. No human could compare to the fertilizer I already use for my plants anyway.” He swished the green goop in his necklace. “It’s quite good for lot of things, actually. So don’t worry, loyal customer. Tell, what are you here to buy?”
“Umm,” you stalled, thinking about how you’re broke from buying an army of life-sized Ronald McDonald statues. “What’s the cheapest thing in the shop?”
The figurine’s face fell as you spoke.
“What about these dried flowers?” You said as you reached for a bundle of dried roses. “You certainly have a ton of them.”
Before you touched them, he grabbed your hand, squeezing tightly. Chills ran up your spine at the contact of his cold wax to your sweaty, greasy skin. “They’re not for sale.” He cleared his throat. “This collection of dried flowers is my pride and joy. I’m always looking for new flowers to add to it.”
“And you would be?”
You told him your name in return.
“So, what would you like to buy? Surely, you didn’t come all the way down to this side of the woods without a purpose?”
You chuckled dryly, put your hand on your neck, and glanced at the window at the woods to avoid eye-contact. You did have a purpose in coming this deep into the woods: to start a cult dedicated to Ronald McDonald. But that’s not really something you tell wax figurines that clearly want money that you don’t have.
“Oh, and for research purposes, how did you find out about my little shop?” Aster asked. Are the ads finally working? I hear radio’s finally taking off these days so I heavily invested in it.”
Radio? Those talking boxes without screens? They’re outdated and so much worse than the modern talking boxes with screens. Radio was a worse business venture than fast-food cults in the woods. At least then you’re guaranteed the entrance fee for those.
“Umm,” you said again, clearly needing an expansion on your vocabulary.
Aster snapped his wax fingers and for a second, you worried about them snapping off at such force. “Hang on, I think I know what you want.”
He dove behind a wooden table that had been completely taken over by a golden hops plant. From the other side, Aster lifted a huge cardboard box over his head. Soft clanks came from within as he moved towards you. Plopping in front of you, he opened it to reveal a vintage tea set. “It’s from Victorian England, roughly 1851. Worth two hundred dollars.”
Your eyes bulged out of your head at the sound of its price. Aster didn’t seem to notice. “You’d probably like to test it out before you commit to such a purpose. Have on a second and I’ll make you some tea.”
Halfway towards a door in the back, he snapped his fingers. “Damn, I almost forgot I’m out of tea.”
You saw your way out in an imaginary bright neon sign above Aster’s head. “Oh, what a shame. Guess I should be going then.”
Aster laughed as you stood. “I’ll just get some now. It’s no problem. What would you prefer? Chamomile?”
“S… sure,” you said defeated and sat.
Softly clicking his tongue, Aster roamed around the shop with his finger on his chin, looking for something. “There you are, you beauty.” He stopped at a pot full of growing white flowers with yellow centers. “Chamomile.” Aster plucked a few fresh leaves from the plant.
“Don’t leaves need to be dried for tea? That’ll take a while. I can just come back at a later time.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Aster pressed the leaves in between his hands for a few seconds. When he opened his hands again, they were perfectly dried.
“How did you do that?”
With a finger to his lips, he winked. “Trade secret.”
With that, he disappeared into the back room and you were gone. Screw manners and niceties. You were raised in a barn afterall—well, more like spent a night in your aunt’s barn when you misbehaved on your trip to visit them. Frantically jigging the front door’s handle, you discovered it was locked and cursed under your breath. When did he even have a chance to lock it? You were watching him the entire time. Unless it wasn’t him who locked it…
But who could have locked the door? You shrugged it off, acknowledging the paranoia as a common side effect of your unholy coffee brewed from energy drinks morning beverage. Must have been automatic. After all, the only other living thing in the room were the plants and it’s not like they could move and lock doors. And why would they? To eat you? Ha! What a ridiculous idea.
“Almost done with the tea? What’s going on in there?”
Your blood froze. “Nothing?” You weakly called out. “I’m just… looking around?”
“Okay. Be careful not to damage my dried flowers. They’re very fragile.”
“Sure thing,” you murmured.
Rubbing your hands together, you brainstormed other escape routes. The windows? Locked. You threw a chair on them and it bounced back and hit you in the face, pinning you to the ground like a wooden wrestler. At that moment, Aster came back with a silver platter holding the tea set. Aster tsked when he saw you. “You’re supposed to sit in your chair. Not let it sit on you.”
You shoved the chair off and flipped it around. “I’ll keep that in mind,” you said and took a seat at a vine-covered table.
Aster set the platter down and offered you a cup. Taking it, you stared at the murky green liquid inside. Nasty. This is why you drink coffee brewed from Croco-ade ™. A much better alternative to something as unnatural as tea.
Eagerly, Aster took his cup and drank. Hesitant to drink, you asked, “What made you take an interest in dried flowers?”
“They remind me of humans. Aren’t you going to drink?”
Reluctantly, you did. Its slimy substance sludged down your throat and you almost gagged. “Why?” You asked with a raspy voice, biting back a cough and maybe vomit.
The figurine smiled with tight lips, in a way that looked like someone carved that smile into his face with a knife. You blinked twice to make sure it was real.
“They’re fragile,” he answered.
Something ran up your spine. It had millions of little legs like spiders. You frantically patted your back down only to find nothing was there.
“Easily to break,” Aster added.
Ants crawled on your arms. You swatted at them but nothing was there. Red veins popped in your eyes.
“Fun to collect,” he finished.
A centipede slithered on your face. Thousands of feet marching across your skin. Both of your hands flew to get rid of it, but it wasn’t there.
Aster set down his cup. “Calm down. Hallucinations are just a side effect.”
Your hands shook and legs trembled. “What—what was in that tea?”
The necklace dangled from his neck, its green goop mocking you. “Just a little something to give it an extra kick.”
Your lower body began to go numb. You were losing control of your limbs, but your eyes still worked. But you wished they didn’t. All you saw was the vines slowly slithering like snakes that just woke up from hibernation. Bunches of them pooled at your feet, coiling themselves around your ankles.
Your vision swayed as the vines yanked you up, tying your feet to the ceiling. Your skin turned leathery like it was drying out and you swore your hair was turning into petals.
Aster stalked his way towards you. He placed a hand on your cheek. You wanted to recoil at the feel of his smooth, cool, heartbeatless hand to your face, but couldn’t move. “Cheap-stakes like you only have one purpose.” His hands moved to your petal-hair. He smiled. “I think you’ll be my prettiest flower yet.”