Monstrous Femme

Darkness and the smell of sour earth was all Rose could discern as her hands flailed, slapping against the splintered edges of the makeshift coffin. She bent her knees and they thudded against the lid. It was too shallow to turn from side to side, too heavy to break free. Rose began to hyperventilate as she realized she’d been buried alive.

She knew then: the man in the grocery store parking lot who had asked if she could help him with his bags had done this. The last thing she remembered was leaning into his truck and feeling a damp cloth cover her mouth. She had resisted, then blacked out. Now, here she was, struggling in futility. Rose accepted her fate and softly started to cry.

Tears streamed down the sides of her face and pooled in her ears. The water overflowed and splashed onto the bottom of the coffin, slowly filling it with water. It seeped through the cracks in the wood, moistening the soil as she cried enough to fill a stream, even a river. All around her, the sour earth responded to her sorrow, bustling with fertility. Like a seed pod, the coffin became swollen, and Rose took root.

The hair on her head stretched out all around her. The hairs on her arms and legs also grew, lengthened, fattened by the spoils of the dirt. Down and around, they soaked up their nutrition, expanding out and beneath the wooden box. Under water, her finger- and toenails also responded. From them, healthy green shoots began to grow. She opened her mouth in an attempt to scream one last time, but instead, a whisper of sprouts escaped and stretched up between the swiftly-rotting boards to find the sky.

Above, the sun kissed the top of the baby fine stems as they found fresh oxygen, welcoming them to life. Rose was elated. She was free. Each of her stems celebrated with buds that swayed in the warm light.

As her body bloomed in the sunshine, her roots continued to stretch. But what they found was not so sweet. The bodies of other women rotted where the man had buried them. Their carcasses leached vital nutrients into the soil. This, Rose saw, was what had given her life. Rose embraced each of the women, held them lovingly, soaking up their rage, despair and sorrow, and promising them a reckoning.

The rumble of an engine approached overhead. The man’s truck rolled up across the drive. Rose had become a large, blossoming bush. She turned her blooms to face him, and what she saw brought her fresh fury.

Behind him, the man dragged yet another woman, bound and gagged. Unconscious, she did not struggle—like Rose, he had chloroformed her. He dropped her in the grass on the other side of the driveway, and he walked off through the woods towards a ramshackle garage to fetch his shovel, preparing to dig a fresh grave.

Rose’s roots scurried underground toward the spot where the woman lay. She tried to think of something she could do. She germinated as many roots as possible. Fat and rope-like, they sat in wait for the man to return.

When he came back, the man took his shovel and thrust it into the soil. His forehead brimmed with the sweat of excitement, but he was surprised to hit something hard as stone. He dug and dug only to reveal Rose’s root system. Angrily, he stabbed at a thick root with the sharp tip of the tool, trying to cut it and dig it out of the way.

He managed to score the bark-like skin of Rose’s root. A syrupy white goo poured forth from the cut. The man pulled back his shovel and inspected it. It was thick like milk, but not any milk he’d ever seen. He touched it with his finger, found it sticky. Then it burned his skin.

Confused and angry, the man tossed the shovel away. He headed back to the garage, and Rose used his absence to cut through the rope that wrapped around the woman’s wrists and ankles with her thorny vine. She produced a bloom so fragrant that it resuscitated the woman. Awakened, she was able to run free.

When the man returned and saw the woman was gone, he shrieked in rage. It was then that he realized his land was covered in giant, red, blooming bushes that swayed toward him in the summer breeze. The gossamer blossoms stared at him, witnesses to his crime. He turned his hedge clippers on them and began to snap.

With each clip, Rose effortlessly shed these pieces. She reserved her energy to grow—this time, toward his house. The more he cut, the more she flourished. Each flower was bigger than the last with blooms that were stinky, sticky, sweaty. Their pungency stung the man’s lungs. As he swiped at her branches and stems, Rose released plumes of dusty, yellow pollen. He struggled to breathe, and his skin began to itch. Fat hives appeared all up and down his arms, driving the man into a growling rage.

As he ran back to the garage one last time, Rose’s vines wrapped all over the property. Her flowers wept milky sap across his yard, his garden, his porch. Under his house, her roots spread and sent new tendrils that sprouted through the wooden floorboards.

Come and get me, she thought. You’re mine now.

This time, the man showed up with a gas can and matches. He tossed the can about, splashing the gas over Rose’s blooms, then struck the match and dropped it. Rose siphoned the moisture from the blooms, turning them into dead brush, and they exploded in a ring of fire around the property. Nonplussed, she shed these parts like a chameleon’s tail and kept going.

It took a moment for the man to realize his house was under attack. He ran toward it, the gas from the open can splashing as he went. Coming to Rose’s aid, the sun blazed down on the roof of the house, drying out the wooden eaves. The breeze also came to Rose’s assistance: it blew the embers from the fire up into the air.

As the man ran up the rotted porch steps, past new pungent blooms that smelled so sickly sweet they made him retch and weep, he inadvertently dropped the gas can. Inside the door, he fell to his knees and yanked at the seedlings that grew through his floor, screaming obscenities as he went.

The embers reached the roof, alighting eaves the sun had rendered dry as tinder. The house burst into flames.

The man heard the splintering of joists overhead as they expanded in the heat. He finally seemed to realize that fighting was useless and made a run for it, but he was stopped in his tracks by Rose. Her vines crisscrossed the doors and windows, trapping him. She chased him into the center of the house where her roots lifted the floorboards all around him, sealing him inside a makeshift coffin, and pulled him down, down, down into the ground.

The man begged for mercy, praying for a swift death. But Rose knew better. His life force would come in handy. He owed it, after all, to the girls.

Rose taught the other women how to feed off of him, taking an ear here, a piece of his liver there, using his nutrients to produce new life. In the wake of his house grew a glorious garden. And for all their days, and all he owed them, they kept him close, buried alive.