An essay by Dr. Abderrafie Alhazred, as provided by Sarah Yasin
Art provided by Luke Spooner
Some drug dealers keep big dogs to scare the cops. I always found that tactic to be labor intensive. Who wants to poop-scoop those massive feces every day? Not I. The drug business is purely an economic opportunity for me, and I follow the first rule of successful businessmen: keep it simple. Restaurateurs have sparse menus–and the really hot ones have only a chef’s selection with no room for substitutions or choice. That’s the way to do it. In and out.
You have to get the clients in and out in the shortest amount of time so you can increase your own productivity while diminishing the chance of intrusion by the local authorities. I abhor sanctimony, and there is nothing worse than the token toke with a customer after the transaction. Just get out of my apartment and go diddle on your PlayStation. I have bigger fish to fry.
My apartment does not fit the profile of a drug dealer’s home. There is no tie-dyed tapestry hanging over a futon, no poster displaying publicity for the Grateful Dead. Nay, I have appointed my home with oriental vases and framed pieces by Ansel Adams. You will not be assaulted by the pinch of cheap incense when you enter my home. I do not favor patchouli soaps or any such crude fragrance.
I don’t even have a television.
My bookshelves are lined with editions of Dostoyevsky, not Palahniuk.
I store my wares at the back of a walk-in closet. Many dilettantes attempt to beard their plants with psych-out displays of innocuous vegetation. They hide their Mary Jane among salad greens, but for me, it is the other way around. The pot I grow conceals my true herbal treasures, and the genius of my system is in the flagrancy of their positioning.
I keep them in the front of the closet, visible to any visitor.
My prized plants are not catnip or any of the usual relatives of the cannabis plant. They are the secret of my success, the crown of my efforts at staying under the radar.
Hydroponics can be tricky, the plants needing to be harvested every six months or so. I always get a thrill when new life sprouts forth, and tiny leaves emerge from their cavities. They are mandrakes. Yes, those mythical plants said to come alive and kill their predators, human or otherwise.
I recently moved into this apartment, an austere Victorian situated on a cobblestone street of the Old Port. A certain tragedy fell on my former residence, so I took my mandrakes and fled here, even though no trace of evidence could ever be found at the old homestead.
When mandrakes kill, they drink up all the blood.
I had warned the boy not to go near my beloved plants. But the lad, nourished by Mountain Dew and a steady regimen of marijuana, paid no attention to my admonition. He wanted to see if the roots really were in the shape of tiny people. Suffice to say, the empirical knowledge he gained before they ate his arm off proved my warning to be true.
The mandrakes consumed the rest of him in under a minute. His demise was for the triumph of science. I took careful notes in my field book as the carnage swelled and ebbed, and my findings have furthered the scholastic inquiry of my life’s work.
Semiotics and botany are my specialties. My academic papers can be found in journals the world over, their common theme championing the age-old wisdom that talking to plants makes them thrive.
I talk to my mandrakes. I never imagined they would talk to me.
To further my research, I set up the mandrakes as guardians of the marijuana. Visitors are categorically warned not to touch the man-eating plants, which invariably incites the curious to test their luck.
Shortly after having moved to the Old Port, I happened past a group of youths kicking a hacky-sack among themselves. One complained of a dire need for respite from the stress of losing his job, another bemoaned her lack of herb.
It was my chance to build a client list.
I invited them to my place and dispensed baggies to all. I allowed them to sniff the medical grade verdure, but when one pinched off a bud I stopped the party. I explained the terms of my business to them, and with wary eyes, they departed.
There is no smoking in my home.
The following day, I strolled along the piers for my daily constitutional, and came across a poster affixed to a telephone pole. It bore the image of the boy who my mandrakes ate, with a notice that he was missing.
He would remain missing forever. At least that’s what I thought.
A few days later, I tended to my plants and the image of the poster came uninvited into my thoughts. The mandrakes twisted and stretched as they always do when they are fed, and then the most extraordinary thing happened.
They rubbed their leaves against each other until the soft swishes formed into whispers. In a faint chorus, they spoke to me. “You have a secret, but the missing boy knows your secret, too.”
I held my breath, waiting for them to say more. After a few moments I leaned in closer, but the plants stopped moving. I reached out to caress their leaves–another aspect of my theory of vegetal communication, tactile stimulation being a necessary component to the life of all intelligent beings. When my fingers touched the plants, one of them drew back and shot forward, twisting its stems around my fingertips. One of the leaves coiled into a sharp point and stabbed my captive hand, drawing blood.
I jumped back, wounded more in my heart than on my hand. How could my charges turn against me?
I went to the medicine cabinet to bandage my hand and smelled a piquant sweetness emanating from the parlor.
Someone was in my home.
With careful steps, I entered the doorway to the parlor. On my sofa, the figure of a teen sat behind a cloud of smoke. Stupefied, I stood there, trying to understand how the intruder had come inside.
The smoke rose, and the heretofore obscured figure leaned back, holding a pipe in his lap. He turned his face to mine and said, “Oh, it’s you.”
I turned and exited the apartment, not willing to accept the apparition. I paced down the sidewalk, trying to synthesize what I had seen. The boy had the exact same features as the one my mandrakes ate.
I am best able to understand discursive thought when I write longhand, but this was not anything I wanted to be found in my field book. I had to go back inside to get a separate notebook to write on.
When I returned to the apartment, the lingering scent of marijuana filled my mind. I tiptoed to the parlor door, and the boy was gone.
With a sigh of relief, I inched toward the study. I withdrew a notebook from the secretary desk in the corner, and went to the kitchen to use the table as a writing space.
There at the kitchen table, the same boy sat in front of a bowl of cereal. He turned and pointed a spoon at me. “Do you have any burritos? I got a wicked case of the munchies.”
I dropped the notebook and stepped back.
“Dude,” continued the boy. “I know I messed up. I shouldn’t’a touched your plants, right? But, like, why am I here?” He lifted the cereal bowl and drank off the milk, and pushed back his chair. “I mean, I feel like I can’t do anything right. My whole life is messed up. I can’t even get my afterlife right.”
I squeezed my temples and left the apartment again.
This time I walked to the piers. Unable to make cognitive connections to anything, I resigned myself to returning. I needed to check on the mandrakes.
My front door was open. I hoped the boy had gone, but when I entered the parlor, there he was, sitting between two of the hacky-sack stoners. A blazing bowl circulated among them, and tribal fusion music filled the room.
“Hey,” one of them offered by way of greeting. “We came looking for you, and your friend here let us in.”
My confusion turned to rage. These undesirables had transformed my aesthetically perfect home into a den of tokers.
The spokesman of the group exhaled a stream of pot smoke. “We brought our girlfriends. They’re in the back, looking at your plants.”
I rushed to the indoor garden. Two girls in baja hoodies kneeled before the mandrakes.
I pulled on their collars to get them away. “Don’t touch them!”
Despite my warning, the girls reached out for the plants, and the mandrakes pounced to grab them.
The girls screamed and I told them to shut up. “Stop scaring them,” I hissed. “If these creatures eat you, it will be your own fault!” I stepped back, knowing that bloodshed would soon follow.
Their boyfriends appeared and tried to pull the ladies from the snares, but only managed to get themselves entangled.
“You cretins! Why didn’t you listen to me? I told you not to touch them, I told you not to smoke in here. I told you!”
The mandrakes bit deep into the boys and shackled them in their tendrils.
The boys hollered in agony.
“Be quiet!” I snarled.
The missing boy came into the closet and grabbed a pair of short blade pruners from my tool bucket. He snapped off the safety guard and grabbed the handles in each hand. “Guys, listen to the man. He knows what he’s talking about.”
The howls continued, and the missing boy charged the captives, cutting their lips and snipping off their tongues.
The hollers became screams, and blood spurted across the small room, weaving warps and woofs of red fluids onto the walls. The mandrakes gravitated toward the blood and open wounds, and made quick work of consuming the party of stoners.
With the bodies gone, I stood back and observed the plants slurp blood out of the floorboards.
The peppery ambrosia of pot smoke drifted into the closet, and I followed its source to the parlor.
All five of the deceased stoners sat in a semicircle, passing a blunt back and forth. I had to get rid of them. I sat on the sofa, and the missing boy held the blunt up to me. I sighed and took a long drag.
One of the girls said, “Those plants belong on a farm somewhere, or deep in a forest where they can be free, not in a home where they can hurt people.”
“I know,” I said, passing the blunt. “But I can’t let go of them. I’ve dedicated my life to them.”
The other girl blew on the cherry and an ember flew onto my Persian carpet. She licked her thumb and ground the ashes into the hand-woven material.
I stood, enraged. “If you miscreants are going to take over my carefully appointed living quarters, then I cannot stay. I’m moving.”
The missing boy scrunched up his nose. “Where to? Are you going to leave behind your mandrakes?”
I clenched my jaw and spoke through gritted teeth. “They’re too precious, and I know I can train them so this never happens again.”
The missing boy drew his head back. “Dude, you need to let go and move on.”
“That’s rich,” I said, maneuvering through the seated apparitions. “A pothead offering up wisdom from beyond. How is it for you? This limbo state of the afterlife?”
I didn’t wait for a response. I packed my suitcases and placed my hydroponic operation in trunks. What a hassle to have to move right after settling in. I would need to vet my clients better next time.
I hauled my belongings out to the stoop and came back inside one last time. The stoners were still stationed in the parlor, and I cleared my throat. “Just one last thing before I go. May I know your GPAs and IQs?”
The flock of burnouts gaped at me with open mouths.
I huffed, disgusted by their idiocy and usurpation of my home. But respite would come quickly enough. I wouldn’t allow their kith near my plants ever again, even if it required a background check to ensure an intelligence above that of troglodytes. I smiled at the group. “Please answer to the best of your knowledge. It’s for data collection in my field book.”
I pulled a small notebook from my side-pocket, and with clinical neutrality, I readied my pen.
Dr. Alhazred is a botanist and semiotician whose scholarly work in the emerging field of plant neurobiology has brought controversy and laud to the scientific community. He proudly claims a traceable lineage to Abdul Alhazred, author of the Necronomicon, who was unfairly dubbed the Mad Arab of Sana’a.
Originally from the idyllic coast of Maine, Sarah Yasin presently lives inland where she studies world literature in translation using the public library. Year-round she works at the checkout counter of a convenience store, and seasonally she facilitates writing retreats. Her stories and poems can be found in Truancy, The Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase, and Lovecraft Me. Learn more about her forthcoming books at www.sarahyasin.com.
Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.
“Weed of Ill-Omen” is © 2018 Sarah Yasin
Art accompanying story is © 2018 Luke Spooner