Xanthoceras

“Xantho-what?” Widow Mayfair said from the plush red armchair in her stately parlor.

Ceras sighed. “Ceras. Xanthoceras. Everyone just calls me Ceras, though.”

The widow sniffed. “I should hope so. What were your parents thinking, giving you such a name? And for such a scrawny lad.” She clicked her tongue and shook her head. “A person needs to grow into a name like that. If you ever do, I’ll eat my handkerchief.” She put such a handkerchief up to her nose, peering at Ceras over frills of lace with rheumy and disdainful eyes.

Ceras would have liked to see such a thing, but all he said was, “Yes, ma’am.”

She waved a gnarled hand to a large wooden box in the corner of the room. “Mr. Mayfair’s collection is over there. Take it away, I never could bear the sight of it.”

“What’s in it?”

Widow Mayfair gasped. “None of your business, that’s what. Take it away and burn it, and maybe I’ll give you a copper piece for the trouble.” She grabbed hold of her cane and hoisted herself up from the chair. Then, with the handkerchief still pressed to her nose, she shuffled out of the room.

Ceras put his arms around the box and hoisted it up. It was heavier than he expected and he tottered outside with it before dropping it on the ground. The contents inside clanged and hummed. Curious over what the box contained, Ceras glanced around to make sure no one was watching, and then he lifted the lid.

A row of jars lined one end of the box, next to which lay a dusty hand accordion. Ceras picked up the instrument, and it whined in a monotone wheeze. He set it on the ground and then picked up one of the jars. It held a pale and cloudy liquid, within which a shadowed form floated. A cloud of thin tendrils twined through the liquid, like hair or maybe a delicate flower. Ceras held the jar up to the sun as he tried to get a better look. The tendrils parted, and from within it a colorless eye peered back at him.

Ceras cried out and dropped the jar. The glass shattered, and he gagged as a sharp and pungent odor tainted the air. The hairy, tentacle thing writhed on the ground. Heart pounding, Ceras leapt back, but the thing didn’t follow. It just lay there, its tentacles twitching and probing. The hair parted and the eye watched him, and then its feathery fronds went into the ground.

Mouth hanging open, Ceras watched as the creature started to grow. Its tentacles rose up into the air, twining towards the sky like tendrils of smoke. Its body grew thicker and sturdier as its multiple arms branched and reached for the clouds. And then, upon its dark and outstretched limbs, colorless flowers blinked and blossomed.

Once it had done growing, it was much the same height as Ceras. He told himself to find a torch and burn the thing, yet Ceras remained still. And then, even as he warned himself of his own folly, he reached out and plucked one of the flowers.

Its aroma was sweet and acidic, like overripe apples or lemon soap. The flower blinked up at him and, as Ceras peered back, he thought he saw stars shimmering in a blackened night sky. He blinked, and the vision faded, but he knew it had been real. He put the flower in a buttonhole of his shirt, and closed up the lid of Mr. Mayfair’s box. Maybe one day, Widow Mayfair would eat her handkerchief after all.

 


28 Comments

  1. Hi Clarabelle – fascinating story line and I love your name Xanthoceras .. I thought you were going towards a Linnean plant .. I hope that will develop .. cheers Hilary

    • Sara C. Snider

      Well, that plant thing that grew might need a name. We could get Linnaeus on board for that. 😉 Thanks, Hilary.

  2. The question is, what is it and what can it do? I think Ceras might be in over his head if he’s not careful.
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    • Sara C. Snider

      I don’t know, but I agree. I think Ceras could do with a bit more caution.

  3. Oosh, and ow – this got me going, reminded me of a scary story (up until the 3rd last paragraph) of Roald Dahl’s.. one of the short stories in ‘Switch Bitch’. But then, o then … thank you for this imaginative story … 🙂

    • Sara C. Snider

      I used to love Roald Dahl! I don’t think I read any of his short stories though. I might have to check that out. Thanks, Susan! 🙂

  4. I’m not sure what to think about this one. The imagery was amazing, but he just plucked an eyeball flower. I mean they blinked at him. Why would someone pluck an eyeball from someone. Or it’s too early in the morning and I missed something when I read it.

    • Sara C. Snider

      Haha! I’m not sure you missed anything. Perhaps Ceras needs to get slapped around with the smartening stick. 😉

  5. Blinking flowers! 🙂 I wonder what comes next in this story…

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

    • Sara C. Snider

      I’m not sure, but I don’t think it would be good–either for Ceras or people in general.

  6. I’m even more intrigued by this one! I hope you expand this story…I love sentient plants.

    • Sara C. Snider

      Maybe! It could make for an intriguing longer short story. Thanks, Craig. 🙂

  7. Jennifer Tyron

    “…as Ceras peered back, he thought he saw stars shimmering in a blackened night sky.”

    I love this, I feel like space and time is folding back on itself, somehow, or beckoning Ceras to another universe. I’d also love to see more on this one.

    • Sara C. Snider

      That’s how I see it. The story feels kind of science-fictiony. I blame the name.

  8. I thought for sure Ceras was toast! This was a great piece of magical realism, it had an otherworldly air to it.

  9. Oh, Widow Mayfair, how trusting you are to think he’d actually burn that box. Not a chance! What have you loosed on the world now–I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a lot less pleasant than eating a handkerchief!

    Beautifully written–thank you!

    • Sara C. Snider

      Haha! Thanks, Kern, for reading and leaving an awesome comment that made me laugh. 😀

  10. Brilliant! My love for Cthulhu extends to anything involving tentacles 😀 Have you read any Storm Constantine? This reminds me very much of her writing.

    I can’t believe that tomorrow’s the penultimate day – where did the time go?

    Fee | Wee White Hoose
    Scottish Mythology and Folklore A-Z

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thanks, Fee. I haven’t read any Storm Constantine, I’ll have to check her out. If for no other reason than the epic-ness of her name.

      And yeah, it’s pretty crazy. The month definitely whizzed by in a bit of a blur.

  11. Step aside, Pandora. I jumped back when Ceras dropped the box. You might have thought whatever it was had reached its tentacle right through my computer screen. Gads.

    Glad things took a turn for the better, at least I hope they did….

    Yes, beautifully written, Sara.

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thanks, Samantha. Things seem to be OK for now, but this story gives me a sense of foreboding. So, even though I don’t know what happens next, I’m guessing it’s not good.

  12. Wonderful story.
    You had me captivated from beginning to end! 🙂

  13. Uh oh. This is why you don’t open boxes. Although, Widow Mayfair should have known better than to tempt the boy like that.

    • Sara C. Snider

      Hehe! To be fair, I don’t think the Widow really knew what was in there. If she did, she’d have probably left Mr. Mayfair some time ago. 😉

  14. Oh, I love this story. It’s so poetic.
    I love the image of the stars in the flower. So vivid and strong 🙂

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