Deadwood’s sole flower shoppe used to be Moses’ Roses–the liveliest place in town.
Then, Moses Redding passed away.
Peacefully in the night. I know because he came to our window, hollow-eyed and with a red, red bloom in hand. Nana put it in a vase on her nightstand, beside her citronella candle. It wilted by morning.
Cerese Redding, Moses’
wife…widow, came around next, a similar bloom–only slightly wilting–woven into her graying hair. She approached Nana and me in the grocery store, though. Not outside our window, gray as the strands streaking through her tresses. As the stones dotting out lawn. In a weary voice, she made a confession and a request.
“Everything I touch dies.” Ms. Redding explained. “And, I’ve been left a flower shoppe. You see my dilemma, yes?”
“Call that no-good son of yours back home.” Nana suggested. “He inherited his father’s green-thumb I do recall.”
“Aaron says he can’t come.” More like won’t. Horse’s ass. “It’s the middle of derby season.”
“Too bad.” Nana hummed, the sound not a bit sorry. Her eyes moved from Ms. Redding’s disgruntlement to the fading bloom tucked behind one ear to, lastly, the short list she held in her hand. She seemed to weigh what was written against the weight of our basket. We’re short some herbs, I think. Sage. Rosemary. Salt, too. Always.
Ms. Redding caught my eye.
“I was actually wondering if you were still looking for work, Thana.” Still…? I don’t remember looking in the first place. Before, I can say as much, Nana speaks up.
“That she is.” Nana ignores my betrayed look. Hands me the basket she’s apparently deemed less wanting than me. It’s heavy. “What did you have in mind?”
“Part-time.” Ms. Redding’s answer is immediate. “Just someone to tend the flowers. Keep the greenhouse clean–Green. Thana could stop by after class. Have Sundays off if she stopped in on Saturdays.”
“I’d like her home before dark.” Before the dead come out to play.
“Of course.” Ms. Redding agrees. “No one makes late-night flower runs.” Save your late- husband. I swallow a smirk.
“Then your worries can end.” Nana elbows me. “Right, Thana?” Her dark gaze dares me to defy her. Ms. Redding’s expectant, hopeful gaze to deny her.
“Right.” I sigh, letting the bulky basket in my grip finally drag me down.
“Oh, thank you so much, Thana!” Ms. Redding beams. “You won’t regret it, you’ll see! Oh, you’ll love the flowers….especially in the spring! Moses had the place lookin’ like a veritable paradise….”
“It’ll be good for you.” Nana nudges me as Ms. Redding disappears down an aisle. “To see the other side. How it lives. Might find you prefer it.” I won’t.
I did. I do.
In the flower shoppe–formally renamed Xanadu at my request–there is peace. Quiet unsettled only by the gentle but steady hum of the greenhouse’s generator. No screams. No nails shrieking across glass. No Nana.
They stay away, the hollow-eyes, from the shoppe. Can’t or won’t go near the place. Near me when I’m inside, surrounded by the day’s vivid blooms. They’ll stare–as they ever–but they keep their distance. Like moths circling a zapper. A citronella candle. Not too close or they’ll fry.
When I arrive at Xanadu this morning, I find the shoppe already open, stained-glass door swung wide. I’m not that late, am I?
Hesitantly, I approach. Early hours are mine. Have been mine since I stopped attending classes last semester. No one ever keeps me company, not even Cerese. She used to, right after her husband….and then Nana…. But, not lately.
Besides, the shoppe doesn’t even officially open for another hour.
“Hello…?” I call, peeking around the shoppe door’s baby pink frame.
“Thana!” Cerese. The sound of her hobbling across the shoppe’s weathered mahogany floors summons me fully inside. The clubbed foot of a recently and reluctantly acquired cane stops me from proceeding further.
“You’re early, Cerese.” Why? I swat her cane out of my face. Cerese lowers it with a huff, revealing the answer to my unasked question in the process.
Two finely clothed figures–a man and a woman–stand by the register. The woman admires a dahlia that seems to be reaching for her, perhaps to offer itself as a compliment to her similarly hued ensemble. The man looks at nothing, clearly unimpressed with the decor.
“They were here at dawn.” Cerese huffs. “Banging on the door till I came downstairs and let ’em in. Relatives of yours?” She looks from the couple’s silvery locks to mine, from their dark, dark gazes to my own. “Didn’t think you had anyone else.”
“I don’t.” Cerese tilts her head–weighed down by its usual, half-wilting bloom–in confusion. “There was just Nana.” Always just Nana. I gesture to the couple. “I’ll take care of them. You can go back upstairs.”
“Tsk. Tell your guests for future reference,” Cerese points sharply with her cane at a festive poster in one of the shoppe’s large, front windows. “we don’t open till 9.” With that, she hobbles up the scant steps half-hidden behind a recent–honestly, monstrous–delivery of hydrangea.
“Well,” The woman turns to me, releasing the dahlia from her attention. It flutters to the floorboards, dead. Sucked dry. “she was a delight.”
The man snorts, pale lips curling downwards with distaste.
“Frail thing’ll be another pair of empty-eyes outside your window in a year, Thana.” He says, then, crooks a toothy smirk. “If that.”
“What do you want?”
“Harsh.” An almost pout. Another dahlia picked for inspection. “How long has it been?”
“Not long enough, Hel.” I can’t help but snip.
“Very harsh, Thana.” Hel shakes her head, picks at a spiky petal. “And after all we’ve done for you?”
“All you’ve done for me?” My voice seems to echo in the tiny room, bounce off innocuous blooms. Hope Cerese is back in bed by now. “Does that include you rejecting me from the Circle?”
Breathe, Thana. Think of the flowers.
“Not I.” Hel has the gall to look offended as she continues plucking spiky petals. “You know those things are decided by vote. Majority rules and all. It just didn’t rule in your favor last time ’round. Sucks, huh?”
I watch a falling petal disintegrate in mid-air–draw in a deep breath–before I respond.
“Leave.” A shakier exhale than I’d like. “Please, leave.”
“But, we haven’t told you what we want yet.” Hel pauses in her plucking. “Well, we haven’t told you what the Circle wants yet.”
“I don’t care.” Just leave–me, Ms. Redding, the flowers–alone.
“That makes two of us.”
“Three.” Gar growls from Hel’s side where he stands–scowling–sentry, kicking at reddish splinters with the steel toe of his boot, watching empty air devour petals with vague interest. They’re not enough. He’d tear my petals if he could get away with it. The possibility of a chance presenting itself is probably why he came. That, and his orders.
The Circle denies you, not you It.
“Pardon,” Hel lets another fading petal meet its fate. “three.”
We stare at each other, all our fathomless eyes each their own black holes trying to suck the other into oblivion. Unfortunately outnumbered, I must relent first.
“Fine.” I bite. “What does the Circle want?” Not me.
“Not you.” Another toothy smirk slashes across Gar’s severe features and I fight not to flinch. He didn’t read your thoughts. Can’t. He’s just an expert on how to hurt. Like the rest of the Circle.
I clench my fist. Sidle closer to the monstrous hydrangeas. Their fragrance is suffocating. Breathe.
“Had any peculiar encounters with a Reaper, as of late?” Hel inquires, ignoring my discomfort. Selecting another poor dahlia for defrocking. “Maybe seen one skulking where it usually doesn’t?” A prickly pause. “Where it shouldn’t?” My graveyard.
I school my expression into one of intrigue before it can betray me or my thoughts
again. A surreptitious glance confirms the inky feather in my hair out of sight, safely hidden behind one beastly bloom.
“Reports from the far reaches have been coming in,” Hel runs her nail along a spiky petal, searching for its base before slicing. “figured I’d visit the loneliest place I know to check their validity.”
“Sorry to disappoint.”
“We’re used to it.” Hel releases what’s left of the abused bloom in her grip. This one hits the floor with a faint thud. I can’t hide the flinch it summons. “The Circle asks you remain vigilant, nonetheless.”
“Can do.” For them when they can’t
won’t for me. Of course. Harder, I clench my fist. Feel neatly trimmed nail cut through skin.
Before the smell of blood can provoke another of Gar’s too-toothy smirks, I motion my uninvited guests towards Xanadu’s usually more-inviting door. They arrived so early, though, the welcome mat is still rolled up beside some ferns. Shame.
Hel inclines her head slightly my way, a silver strand of hair escaping from its place behind a pale ear. She makes to leave but stops in the midst of the action. Seems to ponder something then cut a glance from me to the bouquet she’s been pilfering
“On the house.” It was going in the trash anyway.
Hel grins. Gestures for Gar to grab her loot. He obeys with haste, clutching the sorry batch of flowers close as he follows on Hel’s heels. Good boy.
I receive a parting glare as he and Hel disappear out the door and into morning’s honey-thick fog. When I can no longer hear the patter of their steps, I finally unclench my fist, wincing only slightly as blood flow returns. Four half-moons weep rose-red.
Sighing, I walk around the register. Open the drawer where bandages are kept. It’s the only one that doesn’t screech when pulled from its home. Too many thorny stems, too little patience.
Skillfully, I wrap my palm in gauze. Concentrate on the task. Ignore the weight of the feather woven in my hair. Ignore the dying dahlia on the floor. More, the hydrangeas grey and wilting closer to the steps Ms. Redding enviously vanished up earlier. Their keens and knells, too close to the wails outside my window.
There are no monstrous flowers. Not here. I lied.
Only monstrous people.
A monstrous girl
and her victims.
Till next time~~
***Really love the direction of this series.***