It Started with the Roses

They were innocent enough—a fragrant bouquet from the attractive boy who introduced himself as my new neighbor. He knocked on my door, eyes shining the same rich blue as the flowers he held.

“To attaining the impossible,” he said, smiling contagiously. “To life!” I spent the night dreaming of bright blue eyes.

A month later, he knocked again, this time carrying a flower I didn’t recognize. Still in that impossible color, it had flat, square petals on a red stem that matched the little scars peeking under his gloves. He seemed flustered, some of that compelling confidence gone.

“Althea,” he said breathlessly, folding the flower into my hand. “This is Calydon, created to flourish under your rule.”

I displayed it with the still-fresh roses on my coffee table and dreamed of blue eyes that knew my name.

And every month after, he was at my door holding another flower named for me: Helen, after my mother, then Soleil, because I was “his sun and solace.” No longer suspicious, I simply anticipated perfect flowers from the boy who knew things.

The last time I saw him, he was pale, and shadows bruised his eyes. His hands were bare, revealing deep scratches on his fingertips that coiled up his arms, shoulders, and neck, then grew over his hollow cheekbones like ivy. He looked sickly, diminutive in my low doorway.

“Please,” he said, pressing the flower into my palm and leaving, shoulders hunched to his ears. The stalk was dry, the petals papery.

Please went in the vase, joining the other flowers in now-meaningless blue; though the flowers grew more elaborate each month, the boy who made them special seemed to wilt, dull in comparison.

Now, the flowers were just pretty decorations.

I dreamed of blue eyes that had faded into mournful grey, resolving to ask him next time why his eyes were sad and empty.

But next month came and went, and he didn’t come—perhaps he’d fallen ill, the shaky paleness a symptom of his sickness.

Then November passed too, and still no grey boy came bearing blue flowers for a bouquet finally beginning to wilt.

December arrived, and by then, the flowers drooped down to the tabletop, rot-brown tarnishing the once-special blue. I threw the flowers away.

Or tried to. Looking closer, I saw the stems had grown through the vase, sewing it down with red roots of unbreakable silk.

Paranoia grew and flowered, accompanied by dead flowers that refused to disappear. No longer dreaming, I stared at them, wide awake with insomnia.

What were they plotting?

The flowers grew through the table and branched into the ground in some elaborate system connected to the grey boy. The once-sweet scent became cloying and suffocating, and when I emerged to ask, no one knew of the boy who had moved in last year. At night, I stared and listened. “Althea,” the dead flowers murmured. “His life. Your sanity. Our cure. Your cure.”

Kimberly Chua

Kimberly Chua is a high school student who enjoys writing gothic and Romanticism-inspired stories. She currently resides in Missouri, USA. 

Hailey Renee

Hailey Renee Brown is a professional illustrator born and raised in mid Michigan. A former field biologist, she moved across country from Michigan to New Jersey, also moving from science to commercial art. A professionally trained artist, she attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, NJ. She was selected the recipient of the 2017 Norman Maurer Memorial Award as well as the 2019 Joe Kubert Jumpstart Project.