Her name was Doris.
Not fuchsia, or petunia, like the pretty flowers. It was as if the gods walking by decided that the other plants and flowers in the great garden were to be given beautiful names, but by the time they reached her they had run out of good ideas. So having exhausted their supply of floral and faunae related names, they assigned the plant the only name left: Doris.
Doris was unhappy but didn’t know why. She wasn’t like the other flowers and plants. The pansies bloomed, the tulips blossomed, the grass grew in withery shoots that whispered gossip, while the roses huffed in their fragrant beauty and ignored her altogether.
Doris felt all alone. She was not a mean plant, far from it. She just hadn’t blossomed or bloomed into anything yet. Day after day she sat planted in the midst of the other flowers in the flower beds, waiting for something that never seemed to happen. All the other flowers bloomed. Why not her?
She wondered, was she in the wrong place? The gardeners had their reasons for putting her into the garden. She knew better than to question. She had felt the earth tremble and shake, and had heard what happened to unruly plants that grew too much or in the wrong place.
They were damned as weeds. Any disliked or unnecessary flower, herb, vegetable, or fruit was pulled from the earth. It was a grim culling, and it happened regularly. Doris hated it. She learned that the roses and flowering plants were safe, for they were beautiful.
She was not.
Doris grew wary when the gardeners approached. She knew they were either on the lookout for weeds or new ground to plant more flowers. She withdrew when they came near, ducking her head and hiding her hideous bulbous spikes.
She bowed her head behind her leaves.
Nothing had actually touched her, yet she felt pain. She had not felt the growing shadow of the giant shape steal over her like an angry raincloud, but she felt hurt, with no fresh rainbows to cheer her.
She sensed the towering presence of the gardeners. Her leaves trembled in the morning sun.
“Come on, don’t be a dull Doris. Perk up and open your leaves,” the gardener said.
Dull Doris, Dull Doris… The other flowers whispered with glee, hiding their mirth behind delicately curled flower petals.
Dull Doris, Dull Doris. Don’t be a Dull Doris...They chanted.
Stop it! She cried, feeling bruised and hurt.
Their laughs and snickers abused her like angry insects, battering her senses with phantom pains.
She would have welcomed the angry clouds at that point. At least then a good storm would frighten and silence the other flowers.
She soaked up the sun as best she could, nestled in the afternoon shade, and yet something was wrong. Something not quite right. She felt slightly weak and fidgety.
Then her spiky bulbous leaves opened.
“Oh look at that!” one of the gardeners said.
She could sense them towering over her. Watching, waiting.
“Look at the colour. It’s like a dusky rose pink. How pretty.”
Pretty? Were they really talking about her?
The other flowers were noticeably silent. Then a fly came and ruined everything. It buzzed by, annoyingly, beating its fragile transparent wings, coming to land on her newly opened leaf.
Its tiny feet stamped and tracked dirt all over her new pink pillowy flower, staining her beauty.
The other flowers laughed and snickered, the grass whispered, Dull Doris. Dull Doris.
Doris grew angry. She wasn’t going to let some stupid fly ruin everything. Her spiky green clawed leaves began slowly to close.
The fly grew wary and tried to buzz away, but it couldn’t move. Her pillowy pink flower grew ever so slightly sticky on the surface, encasing the fly’s intruding feet.
It watched in fright as her clawed leaves rose and curled over it, trapping it within a smooth green clawed cage. It was hers now.
What to do with it?
She felt a part of herself reach out and envelope the fly. It beat a protest with its tiny wings, but its chances of escape were as great as a fresh pickle surviving a summer luncheon.
She felt the fly’s body crush in her embrace and sensed its heart stop. The eyes popped, the wings flattened and tore, and she tasted its bodily juices, running down its small pitiful black body. She swallowed it whole and drank the juices, feeling at all once surprised. Was she meant to do that?
If she’d had lips she would have licked them. It had tasted meaty and exciting and she had found it surprisingly satisfying.
The gardeners were still there. “Look at that. It’s gone. The flower ate it. It ate the entire fly.”
Incredible? The grass whispered.
Doris opened her leaves again, leaving no trace of the intruder. Only a pretty dusky pink pillow.
She welcomed intruders now. She had a purpose. She wasn’t just another pretty flower or fruit.
She was beautiful and deadly. Flies, bees, spiders, mites, she didn’t care. She would welcome them all.
She was hungry.
The gardeners left to observe other plants. She felt the familiar tremble as the earth shook, releasing more weeds into the hands of the gardeners.
The pansies snickered and the roses sniffed. Dull Doris. They spoke. Their favourite new slang word.
Doris turned and said, I may be Doris, but I am not dull.
She gnashed her spiked clawed jaws. And if you ever call me that again, I’ll eat you. Down to the very last leaf.
There was a stunned silence.
Incredible, the grass whispered. Incredible Doris.
Incredible? She asked. Me?
Incredible, the grass agreed.
Chapter twelve excerpt from debut novel The Witch Hunter.
Suddenly a scent wafted under my nose, old but not forgotten. It was a fresh smell, but it invoked memories I wished to forget. As its burning scent grew stronger, a part of me recognised it and recoiled. I coughed.
Simon sniffed the air and said, “That smell. What is that?”
I glanced at him and said, “It’s smoke. And burning meat.”
“Some cooking fire, no doubt.” Thomas said.
I shook my head. “I don’t think so.”
My nose wrinkled at the scent. I’d smelled it once before, years ago when I was very young. The coppery odour had left its imprint on my memory, clear as day. I never wanted to smell it again, nor relive the scene that came with it.
Brother Thomas asked, “Harold, are you all right?”
I looked down at my hands. My knuckles were white and my good hand had curled into a fist. To my surprise, it was shaking. Teeth pawed the ground uncertainly behind me, sensing my distress. Simon looked at me with concern. “Master Harold...” he began, “Are you unwell...?”
“Good Lord, he’s white as a shroud.” Thomas said.
I shook my head strongly and pulled myself into the saddle. I kicked my heels at Teeth’s belly, sending him into a gallop. He whinnied and set off, his powerful hooves thundering against the forest floor. Behind us I could hear Simon and Thomas urge their animals after us and attempt to catch up. I rode hard, feeling Teeth’s muscles bunch and coil beneath me as we raced. But even as we covered ground so quickly it blurred before my eyes, I knew it was too late. We were not fast enough.
Dimly I heard Simon’s voice call out behind me, “Harold! Stop! Why are you riding so fast?”
Thomas called something behind me but I did not hear. Simon urged his horse faster and in a few minutes caught up to me. “Harold!” Simon called, “Where are you going? Was it something I said?”
I ignored him and leaned forward on Teeth, gripping the horse by the mane. I rode the animal tightly with my legs wrapped around him, moving as one through the brush. We darted over fallen trees and branches, crashed around bushes and through brambles that tore at our faces. We raced faster and faster, but my heart sank with each ground-eating step. I could see the smoke up ahead through the trees.
I pulled Teeth up short who neighed, rearing, and then stopped. He pawed the ground, his eyes wide. I dismounted awkwardly, barely registering the pain that shot up my arm as I banged it against the saddle. I stood at the top of a rocky slope and beneath it, lay a small clearing where Charles and two other men stood around a burning, stinking fire.
One of the lads was saying, “Never knew a wolf would smell this bad.”
As I skidded down the slope, rocks slipped beneath my boots, and I almost ran into one of the young men standing there.
“You idiots!” I exclaimed. I shoved one of them aside and kicked dirt at the fire. “Stop this!”
One of the lads said, “Hey!” and pushed me back.
Another said, “What do you think you’re doing?” and he punched me in the gut. I doubled over in pain, and held a hand to my stomach. He’d hit right where one of the wolves had gripped me with its jaws, and I could feel something wet seep through the bandage.
“Stop!” I gasped. “Can’t you see what you’re doing?”
Two of the lads exchanged confused glances and looked at me. Charles came to stand inches from my face and demanded, “What are you doing here? We’re burning the wolf. It won’t come around here again. What’s your problem?”
The smell of burning hair and hot flesh was in my nostrils, sick and cloying. It smelled like pork that had cooked for too long. It was sickly sweet, smoky, and putrid. I did not welcome the memory it brought. Years had passed since it had happened, but the smell and its lasting thoughts never left me. How could I make them understand? Wolf didn’t smell that way.
I coughed and thought I might be sick.
“Can’t you see that’s not a wolf?” I exclaimed.
One of the lads stood next to Charles, watching me. “You’re mad. That’s a wolf. Are you blind?”
I pushed past them, stumbling to my knees before the fire. The flames licked at its prey, and the thing in its grasp burned merrily, cloying the air with its stink and sending black smoke up to choke the trees.
There within the flames, lay the burning body of an animal. Its carcass moved in the fire, as if it were still alive. I was suddenly reminded of how as a child, I had once found a small bird lying on the ground. It lay there and moved, yet it did not breathe. I picked up a stick and poked it, and found a nest of maggots underneath, squirming and eating away at its insides. Their movement shook the poor creature as if it was still alive, mimicking the semblance of life in its death. I shut my eyes at the thought and could still see them, wriggling as the bird’s eyes lay open, staring at nothing. I gagged.
The smoke stung my eyes, making them water. I blinked hard and backed up, rocks and pebbles scraping my good hand as I watched the fire. In the distance, I heard hoof beats and voices calling as I sat and watched the carcass burn. Was it a trick of the light, or was that a body in the flames?
Hands roughly pulled me away and set me further back on the ground. Simon appeared over me, saying something incomprehensible. I shook my head and leaned up on my elbows, gradually sitting up as I watched. The animal’s scent toyed with my nostrils, filling them with its stink.
Simon leaned closer and asked, “Harold, what happened? Are you all right?”
I looked up at him helplessly. At that moment the fire popped and spat something at my cheek. It rolled down, leaving a hot smear down my face. All I could think of was the bird I’d seen as a child, covered in wriggling maggots. I turned to the side and vomited.