Toby Goodwin’s eyes watered at the thick scent of sweetpeas in bloom. From the safety of her doorstep Bridget Levsky glared disapprovingly up at him, wire-frame glasses glinting beneath her grey curls.
“Young man, Professor Levsky and I spent forty years perfecting our White Supremes. I’m not going to leave them to die because some oaf can’t steer straight.”
“Mrs Levsky, I work for the council.” Toby flashed his ID for the third time, then pointed at the tanker crashed across the road, police officers busily taping it off. The driver’s body lay beside it, blood and a few green tendrils creeping out from beneath the white sheet. “That man’s chest exploded minutes after the crash. Whatever was in the tanker, it’s not safe for you to stay here.”
“It’s Dr Levsky to you.” She pointed at the tracks the lorry had left on her lawn. “What’s the council going to do about this mess, that’s what I’d like to know. Now get off my garden or I’ll set the dog on you.”
A bedraggled mongrel yipped half-heartedly from the floor.
“That goes for you too, Thomas Bell!” Dr Levsky shouted as a small boy shot through the flowerbeds on a BMX. As he stopped to stick out his tongue the wind changed. His face went white, eyes widening as he gagged on the greenery shooting from his throat. Police rushed to his aid, but Toby could only stare in horror.
There was something reassuring about the thick rubber seals of the biohazard suit. It kept out the pollen as well as whatever had been in the tanker, helping Toby to breath more easily.
Dr Levsky’s skin looked different looked paler through the condensation inside the mask.
“Have you died your hair?” he asked.
“It’s no good buttering me up.” She declared patted her brown locks. “I wasn’t going yesterday, and I’m not going today.”
“Everyone else has.” It hadn’t been hard to convince them – half the neighbourhood had seen little Tommy reduced to red lumps and squirming roots. Even Toby, who had never met the boy, felt sick at the thought.
“I’m not everyone else,” the old lady declared.
“Neither is Albert Brooks anymore.” Toby pointed to the empty house two doors down.
“Serves him right,” Mrs Levsky said. “Letting his nasty dog dig up people’s gardens. You don’t do that, do you Ruffles?”
Joints clicking, she bent to scratch the mongrel’s head, and Toby saw past her into the hallway. At the far end a door stood ajar, revealing rows of seedlings in tall test-tubes, spiralling glass pipes feeding dark liquid to their roots. The seedlings were moving, stems turning towards Toby as if caught by a gentle breeze.
An uneasy feeling tickled at his mind.
“What did you think of Mr Hardbottom from next door?” he asked.
“Interfering old so-and-so.” Dr Levsky frowned. “Kept threatening to cut back my Restormels.”
Dr Levsky listed the failings of one casualty after another. As he listened, Toby’s uneasy feeling grew.
Toby felt a little ridiculous as he scrambled down the fence and into the shadow strewn back garden. Not as ridiculous as he’d felt in the police station, trying to explain to the desk sergeant why they should investigate the little old lady with the lovely flowers, and not the contents of the tanker crash. The police had treated his theory with contempt, but he still believed there was something wrong. Someone had to investigate.
His nose tingled feverishly as he brushed past the sweetpeas, pale petals glowing in the moonlight. He wished he still had the biohazard suit, but the fire brigade wouldn’t let him keep it overnight.
Carefully opening the back door, he tip-toed into a hallway that smelt of old boots and compost. At the far end Bridget Levsky stood alone in her kitchen, muttering to rows of seedlings. Her hair was ginger now, fingers and nose more pointed.
“You’ll keep the nasty men away, won’t you precious?” She caressed a plant and its fronds stroked her wrinkled hand. Tendrils like those that had burst from poor Tommy Bell turned towards Toby.
Heart pounding he backed away through a thick curtain. His nose twitched again, and he turned to see row upon row of lush, green leaves swaying in the glare of industrial lights. In their midst stood two more Bridget Levskys, a bottle blonde and a fading brunette. Between them half-a-dozen more near-identical old ladies lay in a pool of thick yellow liquid, each a little sturdier, a fraction less wrinkled than the last.
The blonde pursed her lips and whistled. At the sound, a cluster of fragile purple flowers turned towards Toby, spraying pollen into his face. His allergies went into overdrive as something squirmed in his nostrils. He gave an almighty sneeze and fine green fragments rocketed from his nose, sailing across the room and hitting the women. Those fragments erupted in to a web of roots and crawlers, sprawling across their bodies and into the bubbling vat. Green veins throbbed as the plants guzzled the thick goo, burying the two Bridget Levskys in a mound of trailers as they expanded at an ever-increasing rate beneath the glow of the industrial bulbs.
Toby stumbled through the door and out into the road, the mongrel dog yapping at his heels. Greenery burst from every orifice of the house, smashing windows and doors, stretching out in search of sunlight. With one last, desperate thrust towards the pale moon, the vines over-reached and collapsed amidst a cloud of softly scented petals, all perfectly lovely and perfectly dead.
A wrinkled hand pushed out of the greenery, and then flopped and hung still.
It seemed Toby wouldn’t need to evacuate Dr Levsky after all.
* * *
Having discussed plants as villains a few posts back, it seemed like a good time for this story. It was also an experiment in editing, digging out a piece I abandoned years ago to see if I could turn it into something worth reading. Was it worth the effort? You judge.