Painted across a backdrop of lush long grass, the tell-tale mounds of orange and gold beckoned for Anna’s approach. The chrysanthemums were in bloom.
She pirouetted through each soft blade, skipping and dancing with an exuberance unfelt since childhood, and clutched the wicker basket tight. The Master was going to be so pleased with her! Six flowers boiled with a blackberry squeeze and his aching heart would settle; it was his favourite tea and she’d be certain to harvest enough for a weeks worth of brews.
An earthy aroma rose up from the bushes and she wrinkled her nose. The scent seemed stronger than normal… it rose toward her in faint tendrils –a misty gas that was visible to the naked eye if she squinted hard enough– and wrapped about her body in large concentric swirls until they reached her nose and forced her to sneeze.
Anna wiped at her weeping nostrils and furrowed her brow. It had been several weeks since her last harvest; apparently that was long enough to forget the effect the ‘mums held over her… or had it always been like this? She couldn’t remember.
As though the answers could be found behind her, she peered over her shoulder and paled. The flawless skies above the monastery were now bloated with dark, heavy clouds lined with green and threatened a storm like no other. There wasn’t much time.
An icy breeze caressed her shoulders and raised the tiny hairs on her neck, spreading goosepimples across her body. She shivered and plucked the first bloom, sneezing again as it fell into the basket. Blasted ‘mums.
Trembling hands reached for another, then paused. The visual scent whorled and writhed as a gaseous vortex, deepening to an odd green that matched that of the approaching clouds, and pulsated with a steady thrum as it entwined about her limbs and pulled at her, the air lapping at her flesh like a hyperactive mutt.
The tendrils yanked her into the depths and her cry stabbed through her mind as a nail through the wood as the void seeped over all.
The moment was eternal. The air whirled in cyclonic gusts, tearing at her limbs and twisting them into impossible positions, and she screamed as her skin ripped, tearing open to reveal a throbbing mass of crimson innards —crack!— a shriek louder than the banshee’s proverbial wail rose up from her throat as her bones snapped, and then… there was nothing.
Anna opened her eyes and winced as the bright red sun glared down at her. Where was she? Her skin and bones were intact, and her only pain came from the rawness of a bad sunburn. Had it all been a dream? But, how did she end up here –what had the chrysanthemums done?
Leaping to her feet, she peered left, right, and then left again. The landscape was as red as the obnoxious sun and apart from the jutting, jagged rocks that were strewn across the sand it was as lifeless as a vast, endless grave. She narrowed her eyes. The rocks looked familiar… like the thick needles her Master often used in his experiments –Master! Her heart pounded, each thump as a heave that tightened her chest and summoned unsheddable tears. Whatever would he be thinking right now? She needed to return! But, how?
The sun’s heat bore down upon her, antagonising her already-burned skin, and she stood as immovable as a statue, uncertain as to which way she should go. There was little choice –each direction was identical. With one foot in front of the other, she tentatively headed for the nearest rock formation; perhaps there would be something there, or at least some shade! Then she could sit for a moment and work out this predicament… or wither and die. She swallowed and continued walking.
Her feet fell through the sand, each step a greater trial than the last as she pulled herself through the soft grains that sought to resist her passage. The shadowed rocks never came closer.
Another foot through the sand; another step further from her goal. Her feet, the rocks, the sand, the blasted sun! They were taunting her. All of them.
Hours passed, though they could’ve been minutes; time was the greatest illusion. The sun remained high, casting grinning demons across the cracks in the rock formations, and her burning, trembling legs couldn’t move any further. She collapsed.
Embraced by the warm sand, she closed her eyes and was immediately shrouded by a black haze that spoke only of death. Peace at last.
Anna opened her eyes and stretched, her nightmare fading into oblivion as birdsong danced in through the open windows and coaxed her up from the chaise. It looked as though it would be a perfect day! Not a single white puff tarnished the flawless blue sky and the rising sun cast its golden rays over the meadow, illuminating dewdropped spiderwebs stretched out between the two trees beside the building.
What would be the agenda today –did anything need collecting? She glanced over at the shelves. The herbs were fully stocked, various bottles and tinctures had been removed from their case and had been placed at the ready, and the soft boil of water bubbled nearby in preparation for a new brew. One reagent was missing from the middle shelf… her Master’s heart must be aching again.
Quickly throwing on her day-clothes, Anna pulled her hair into a long pony-tail and retrieved the wicker basket by the door. Painted across a backdrop of lush long grass, the tell-tale mounds of orange and gold beckoned for Anna’s approach.
The chrysanthemums were in bloom.
This is a revamped version of a short story that was originally written for a just-for-fun contest on a forum I used to frequent. 🙂
The contest involved several images and weaving a story around them. The images that were given to us were probably just found on google and aren’t CC0, so I’m not using them in this post. But, if curious, you can find the images and the original version (in all of its superfluously worded glory) behind these blue words 😀
I have the same username on that forum as I do here — @kaelci — and the work is my own.
The image used for my header is a CC0 image courtesy of Pixabay!