Mo stifled a laugh.
"This Poison Heart" by Kalynn Bayron, Chapters 5–8
September 23, 2022
Mo stifled a laugh.
They wound around its conical turret, laced themselves through the banister, traced the pointed arches over the windows and doors like picture frames.
“This is really beautiful.” I tried the ornately engraved handle.
Inside were three shelves, all lined with glass jars, painted black, obscuring their contents.
“Look. There are labels, bags, twine, like we have at the shop. Were the people who lived here selling this stuff?”
“It’s an apothecary,” Mom said.
Or some kind of old school natural medicine dispensary.
Huge dressers and armoires sat against the walls, and each bedroom had its own bathroom.
I jumped onto the bed, sending a plume of dust into the air.
The flue groaned as it opened, spilling a pile of rotted leaves and a dead bird into the hearth.
Paintings hung on the walls, but unlike the ones downstairs they all featured the same person—a woman, her skin rendered in the warmest golden brown, her hair and eyes dark.
Next to the dish sat a large green toad, an abalone shell, and a coiled red string.
The woman looked absolutely focused on whatever was in the dish, and the man next to her sat in rapt attention, his brown eyes wide, regarding her with some mix of fear and intrigue.
It was all I could say before deep, ruddy splotches bloomed on Mom’s face and neck, her outstretched arms, her bare legs.
The spots turned to raised welts and the area around her left eye began to swell.
The cool sensation on my skin dissipated as images of the hemlock root splayed open on my desk flashed in my head.
A huge black contraption with a bunch of rectangular doors on the front was set into a tiled alcove in the rear wall.
I find it ironic that, even with these gifts, we are not impervious to suffering.
There are, I would imagine, things transpiring in your life that you have questions about—and you may find yourself set apart.
There was a coffee table and an ottoman under the other cloths.
Her voice was a familiar song, her thick Southern drawl like honey.
You know, your auntie Leti was always real good at puttin’ together salves and balms and such.
The dried calendula turned from brown to vibrant yellow and the pungent, earthy aroma of the petals wafted up.
A single bulb illuminated the cramped space now that the sun had set, and the portrait of the woman Circe called Medea hung on the wall, looking more ominous than she had in the daytime.
Her ugly leather house shoes with the heel folded down were sliding off her feet as she shuffled around the entryway. Her droopy red bonnet topped off the terrifying ensemble.
“We’ve recently begun defunding the local police department. Several officers have proven themselves to be more of a problem than an asset to the residents here. As such, we’ve cut back the number of officers on the force and diverted funding to programs that better serve the community. My department acts as a buffer between what’s left of the police and the community to ensure everyone’s safety.”
For morning glory, place seeds under pillow to stave off nightmares; root can be a substitute for High John the Conqueror.
Maybe she’d conjured it from her own imagination.
A single sentence was scrawled at the bottom.
“This property’s big enough to get seriously lost, so don’t go too far. You got your phone? You wanna take Mom’s Taser?”
“Got my phone. And I don’t need the stun gun. I have mace though.”
I took a few tentative steps into the knee-high grass.
It bent toward me as I waded through, cutting a swath of vibrant green into the brown.
Smaller leaves with razor-sharp serrated edges—stinging nettle—interlaced with them, forming an impenetrable curtain.
Testing my theory, I reached out to stroke the leaves of the stinging nettle, then braced myself for the pain.
The tangled curtain of ivy and nettle unwound before me. The layers of foliage parted, revealing the well-worn fourth path.
The oak trees bent unnaturally, groaning loudly as they leaned away from the facade of an overgrown stone structure.
His breaths rattled, tight and labored, like he was breathing through a straw.
I ran to the path leading away from the glade and looked back, only once, to see the man’s terrified face as a blanket of stinging nettles pulled itself over him like a shroud.
“What the hell happened to him?” Dr. Grant asked as the officers hoisted the man onto a gurney.
Her fear had ebbed, and I could see the anger taking over as she shifted back on her heel and crossed her arms over her chest.
My restless mind conjured images of sentient plants surrounding me as I stood in shadowy woods.
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