Authors: Jeff Strand
Tags: #+READ, #+UNCHECKED
by Jeff Strand
MAX, WHOSE REAL NAME WAS SPECIMEN 278
, tried to be happy as he digested the arm. It had been a delicious meal for sure (he didn't get to eat humans very often, so it was always a special treat), but he felt somehow unsatisfied. Not
, necessarily, just sort of... unfulfilled.
He shifted in his dirt a bit. Almost watering time. Maybe that was the problem---his soil was too dry, and it was keeping him from enjoying his dinner.
He'd actually felt this way for the past couple of days. Kind of bored. Kind of sad. There were plenty of things going on in the greenhouse laboratory for him to watch, including a minor rampage by Specimen 201 that ended with the unfortunate plant being clipped to shreds with a pair of garden shears, but none of them captured his interest the way they had in the past.
He wished he had a means to communicate with humans. It would be nice to be able to ask Dr. Prethorius about why he might be feeling this way. He hoped he wasn't sick.
Dr. Prethorius certainly wasn't down in the dumps. The scientist had let out his usual high-pitched cackle when Max's powerful leaves slammed shut over the vagrant's arm, severing it at the shoulder, and he'd laughed so hard that tears flowed down his cheeks as he used a shovel to deliver more blows to the head than were probably necessary.
"One for you, and one for you, and one for you," he'd said, tossing pieces of the vagrant to the hungry plants. "And one for you, and one for me... no, just kidding... and one for you."
Max had been very proud at that moment. After all, most of the specimens couldn't even bite off a finger, much less an entire arm. Of the last five hobos who'd perished in the greenhouse, Dr. Prethorius had seen fit to lure three of them to Max's area. Max wasn't the biggest plant in the lab---in fact, he wasn't even the biggest of the gene-spliced Venus flytraps---but he was the deadliest.
Normally that made him feel great.
If he could have let out a deep, sad sigh, he would have. But he couldn't. All he could do was wait and hope that he'd feel better soon.
Transplant day... ?
There was no more frightening sight in the greenhouse than Dr. Prethorius picking up the large shovel that rested against the far wall. Sometimes it simply meant that a plant was being moved to a new spot, but more often it meant that a particular experiment was over.
"Hello, hello," said the doctor, walking straight toward Max. His eyes were red and glassy, but he wore his usual smile. "Need to get a bigger greenhouse, yes I do. Hate to see plants go to waste. But, try as I might, I can't seem to make a tree that grows money!"
He laughed at his joke, which he'd used before, and then regarded Specimen 47, Charlie, who had been planted to Max's right for as long as he could remember. Charlie was noncarnivorous and covered with pretty red and yellow flowers, and was always pleasant if not particularly fascinating.
Max's leaves stiffened as Dr. Prethorius plunged the shovel into the dirt.
"Time to go, time to go," said the doctor in a singsong voice. "Out with the old, in with the new, it's good for me, too bad for you."
Max watched in horror as the doctor scooped out shovelful after shovelful of dirt. He hadn't forgotten what had happened to Specimen 159, who'd been dug up and discarded---thrown into a corner. It took the plant several agonizing days to dry up and starve to death.
After a few minutes of work, the doctor wrapped his arms around Charlie and pulled him out by the roots. He dragged the plant away, leaving a trail of red and yellow flowers.
Max tried to use this to make himself feel better. After all, he was unhappy, but at least he was still firmly planted in the dirt.
It didn't work. He was sadder than ever.
When Max uncurled his leaves upon the morning light, he had a new neighbor. Another Venus flytrap. The new plant was a darker shade of green than Max, and about a foot shorter, with leaves that were narrower.
Max was surprised. Usually the new plants were bigger than the old ones. What made her so special?
Oh. That was it. His new neighbor was a "she."
Max's mood suddenly improved. He twitched his front leaves.
I think I'm Specimen 313.
Glad to meet you. You'll like it here.
I don't think I will.
It's really not that bad. Once you get used to it you'll be fine, I promise.
I don't feel like talking now, if that's okay.
Max stopped twitching his leaves. He didn't blame her. The greenhouse was not as comfortable as the garden where he'd grown up (had she grown up there, too?). There he got to be outside and see the real sun instead of just light through the ceiling, and he got to feel a breeze sometimes, and though he couldn't actually go anyplace else, he
like he could leave if he wanted.
So if Specimen 313 had been in the garden yesterday and was moved to the greenhouse today, he completely understood if she didn't want to talk. That was fine. He'd just wait for something to happen, like he always did.
About an hour later, Dr. Prethorius walked over with his plastic watering can. The greenhouse had an automated sprinkler system, but the doctor still used the watering can every once in a while. "Hello, Jenny," he said as he watered her. "Are you adjusting to your new home? I have a guest waiting to see you, but I wanted to make sure you hadn't fallen over first!" He giggled. "I'll be right back, so don't go anywhere."
The doctor left.
I don't want to be here,
You'll learn to like it.
No. I won't.
She didn't say anything else. When the doctor returned, he was with an old man who had a thick beard and a dirty jacket. The old man looked around at the other plants, mouth slightly ajar, and almost tripped over a hose.
"Careful, now. Careful," said the doctor. He gestured to Jenny. "And here it is. The prize of my collection. Specimen 313."
The old man wiped his nose on his sleeve. "That's a pretty big plant."
"Indeed it is."
"That one of those fly-eating ones? Those trap ones? You know, that..." He moved his hands together in a trap-closing movement.
"Again you are correct. How does somebody with your level of intellect end up living out of a cardboard box?"
The old man lowered his eyes. "Bad luck, I guess."
"I certainly hope you weren't naughty with the crack cocaine. So do you like my plant?"
"Yeah, it's kind of neat. Did I look at it long enough? Do I get my twenty bucks now?"
Max realized that he was not jealous at all that Jenny was going to get to eat the old man. Normally he was a little bit jealous---not a lot, just a bit---but with Jenny, he only hoped that it would make her feel better. When she had chunks of that old man digesting inside of her, she'd know that this was a welcoming place.
"Almost, almost, not quite yet," said Dr. Prethorius. "Just a couple more minutes. It took a great deal of cross-breeding to create such an impressive specimen, and I want to make sure you take in the details."
"So... why me?" asked the old man. "I ain't got no appreciation for plants. Shouldn't you have those people from that Nobel Prize thing here?"
"They don't appreciate true invention. Those cowards are just as likely to contact the authorities as they are to bestow a prize. That's why I need you. Somebody simpler of mind. Somebody who makes a good... fly."
Jenny suddenly bent forward, leaves wide open. The old man let out a quick shriek that was cut off as her leaves closed over the top half of his body with a loud
Max had never seen anything like that!
The old man's legs and waist dropped to the ground. Some blood trickled from between Jenny's leaves as she... was she actually
Dr. Prethorius squealed with laughter and danced in a merry circle. "It worked! It worked! I never imagined that it could work so well!"
Jenny opened up her leaves, revealing a skull and rib cage, then bent down and gobbled up the lower half of the man's body.
Dr. Prethorius laughed even louder. "Shoes and all! She ate him shoes and all! They all ridiculed me, but now it is I who will be administering the ridicule! And she hasn't even displayed her full potential! We'll see who's not a genius!"
He laughed for a while longer and then left.
Max twitched his leaves.
How was he?
Not bad. His beard was awful. It tasted like smoke.
I liked the way you did that.
Jenny seemed genuinely pleased.
Had you planned to do it exactly when the doctor told him he needed somebody who made a good fly?
I didn't know what the doctor was going to say. It just felt like the right moment.
Had you ever eaten any humans before?
So never live ones?
Oh, I've eaten them alive. The doctor removed somebody's arms and legs and fed me his torso.
He screamed a lot.
Want to hear something weird?
The doctor looked around to make sure nobody was watching---I guess we don't count---and then he bit off one of the toes.
Yeah. He spat it out quickly, though.
He must not appreciate the finer things in life.
Thanks for being nice to me.
"I said, walk over to the plant!" said Dr. Prethorius, jabbing the barrel of the revolver into the young woman's back. She sobbed and pleaded incoherently and fell to her knees.
"Get up! I said, get up!"
"Please!" she wailed.
Dr. Prethorius kicked her. "Are you trying to get yourself killed? Is that what you want? Get up and go see the plant!"
"Please! I have a baby at home!"
Dr. Prethorius kicked her again. "Get up! Get up! Get up! It's not that hard! Just get up and... you know what? Fine. Don't."
He shot the woman in the back of the head. Her entire body went limp.
Dr. Prethorius crouched down next to her. He stared at her for so long that Max thought he might have become one of those zombies he occasionally experimented with creating, but finally he sprang back to life. "Well, that was no good. Shouldn't have let that happen. Not scientific at all."
He took her by the hands and dragged her along the path. He stopped in front of Jenny, regarded her for a moment, and then shrugged and looked back at Max. "You might as well have this one. Such a waste."
Max happily opened his leaves. The doctor pulled the woman to her feet and held her so that her arm was right next to Max's leaves. He bit it off. The doctor repeated the process with the other arm, then let the woman's body fall to the ground again. "Maybe I'll grind up the rest of her and mix her into the soil," he said, stroking his chin. "I haven't used my meat grinder in a while. The gears might be rusty. I don't know how well it will do on a big-boned girl like her, but the worst that can happen is my meat grinder gets jammed, and that's really not such a big deal, now is it?"
Dr. Prethorius walked away, leaving the armless corpse between Max and Jenny. Max wasn't disappointed that his meal had been cut short; after all, two arms was still a feast, even if he would have rather eaten her legs, given the choice. If the doctor ground her into fertilizer, then everybody could enjoy her, including the daffodils---Specimens 195 and 196---who had probably never tasted a drop of blood in their lives.
But what did he mean by
You might as well have this one
Might as well?
Max couldn't bend forward and snatch prey like Jenny, but he was far from obsolete, right? He could still bite arms off, or heads, or what ever parts the good doctor wanted bit off. Perhaps he couldn't bite somebody completely in half or swallow them whole, but why would you even
He was still one of the most vicious plants in the greenhouse. By far.
Sorry you didn't get any,
he told Jenny.
He usually shares better.
It's okay. I'm not that hungry
The pool of blood is getting close. You might be able to bend over and slurp it up.
Thanks, but I don't need leftovers.
What do you mean?
I'm sorry. That was rude. I didn't mean anything by it.
Jenny bent all the way down to the ground, stayed there for a few seconds, then sprang back to an upright position.
I can't reach the blood yet.
It's still moving. It'll get there soon.
I'm really sorry about that. I didn't mean that your half-eaten meals were leftovers. I'd like to share. Really.