Tuesday, January 8, 2019
By Daniel Skye
Charles Richter–or Chuck, as he was affectionately referred to by his friends and family–stood on his back porch, enjoying his first coffee and cigarette of the day. He used to sit and have his coffee and smokes on the front porch, but Sal Ferretti had ruined the experience for him.
Sal, or Story Telling Sal as Chuck called him behind his back, wasn’t a bad guy and Chuck knew that. The problem was that Sal was lonely and Chuck was not. He didn’t crave the company or the attention that Sal craved. And he was beyond exhausted of hearing the same recycled stories that Sal insisted on rehashing.
He sipped his coffee, smoked his cigarette down to the filter, and used it to light another. His health was of no concern to him. Not much concerned him after Wanda’s unexpected passing. He had gone to hell with himself, and the property had followed suit.
The gutters were clogged with leaves. The pipes were leaking in the cellar. Years of harsh weather had stripped the paint on his front door down to the wood. And his lawn was a sight that made most people in the neighborhood cringe.
In front, the grass was waist high and scorched yellow by the wrath of the sun. Out back, it was even worse. There were patches of dirt where the grass had died off and refused to grow back. In other spots, the grass had turned from a sun bleached yellow to a sickly brown.
Then there was the yellow IROC that had been a fixture in his backyard for years. A crack in the engine block had caused an oily puddle to seep into the earth, killing everything that once grew. All that remained was black dirt and a layer of coagulated oil.
He opened the gate to the fence surrounding the back porch and trotted across his balding, unhealthy lawn. What a shame, he thought. But it wasn’t the grass that really intrigued him. Something else had caught his eye.
He followed a trail of strange looking vines that were coiled around a dense, shady oak tree. The vines traveled in a straight line around the side of the house, where it was clinging to the blue vinyl siding. These vines were not green or purple, they looked in worse condition than his sickly grass. They were black, the color of rot and decay. And they smelled as bad as they looked.
He followed the discolored vines with his eyes and saw that they were growing outward, splitting off and moving towards the brick chimney. The vines extended almost to the eaves of his house.
“See you at the party, Richter!” Sal yelled jovially, doing his poorest Arnold impersonation.
Chuck shuddered at the sound of his voice. It was like broken glass on a chalkboard. “Huh?” he muttered.
“Total Recall,” he said. “You’ve never seen it?”
“I prefer Terminator.”
“To each his own. I saw you out here and thought I’d pop on over and see what’s up.”
“Well, you’re looking at it,” he said and waved with his hand towards the vines crawling up the side of the house.
“Gotdamn! Never seen vines like that before! And jeez, you smell that? Smells like an abattoir. My uncle used to work at a slaughterhouse. He’d come home reeking. Did I ever tell you that?”
“Probably,” he sighed and rubbed one of his throbbing temples.
“Well, these vines smell just like that. The smell of death. It’s sickening.”
“I wonder what causes them to go black like that. Never seen it before, either. It’s strange. They look dead, they smell dead, but they’re still growing up the side of the house.”
“Ya got me, buddy,” Sal shrugged. “Hey, I got another uncle. Not the one who used to work at the slaughterhouse. He lives in Reno. That’s in Nevada.”
“I know where it is, Sal.”
“Well, his wife is a botanist. I probably mentioned it before. I could give her a call and ask her about it.”
“That would be grand,” Chuck said, feigning enthusiasm.
Chuck looked at his sad, unkempt lawn and then glanced across the street. Sal’s garden was in bloom, his lawn was well-manicured. His gutters were clean, his windows shining. It made him resent Sal even more for some unknown reason.
“Be right back,” Chuck said, brandishing his empty cup. “Need more fuel.”
He secretly hoped that Sal would be gone when he returned. He refilled his cup, stirred in a spoonful of sugar and a splash of heavy cream. He went out the back door and looked around, didn’t see Sal.
Oh, thank God, he thought and breathed a sigh of relief.
Muffled screams tugged at his ears. His eyes dashed wildly around the property, leading him back to the morbid black vines. The vines were moving.
Not growing, but moving. They throbbed and pulsated. Plants are living, breathing organisms. But you can’t physically see them breathe. And these vines were visibly breathing, inhaling and exhaling, expanding and contracting.
He followed them back around the side of the house, and the sight made him gasp and drop his coffee mug. It shattered in the hard dirt where a patch of his lawn used to reside.
Sal was pinned to the side of the house, about six feet off the ground, wrapped from his feet to his neck in the blackened, diseased-looking vines. He tried to cry out for help, but the vines were tight around his neck, cutting off his oxygen and crushing his windpipe.
The vines continued to spread at an exponential rate until they enveloped the entire side of the house. Sal was now trapped in a cocoon of darkness; no vision, no air, no way to convey the terror he felt, no chance for survival.
The vines followed their paths, stretching over the eaves of his house and spreading out over the roof, moving in every direction. Soon, the other sides of the house were encased. They enveloped the property as if a giant black tarp had been draped over his house.
Charles Richter wasn’t going to need a botanist. He was going to need a priest.