She hadn’t meant to kill the old man. It just happened. One minute she had been barreling up the lane towards her house – the lane nobody ever used except her – and the next, he’d stepped out from behind a shed in front of her car and she’d hit him.
It wasn’t even as if she’d hit him hard, just a glancing blow, but when she got out of the car and ran back, there he was. Dead. He looked pretty old. He must have had a weak heart or something.
She’d thought of phoning the police, really she had, but when it came down to it, she thought, well, why bother them?
She was pretty sure it must have been a heart attack. After all, to be honest, he didn’t look as if anyone would miss him. His coat was held together with a bit of string and his shoes were worn through with bits of newspaper and cardboard in them to keep his feet from actually touching the ground.
She went through his pockets to see if there were any clues – letters from a wife or child or bank statements proving he was an eccentric millionaire – but all she found was an empty cider bottle and a card with the phone number of the local Salvation Army shelter on it.
So she buried him.
It was quite a nice spot, she thought. At the end of the back garden under the apple tree.
She had a bit of trouble getting him out there. In the end, she got her wheelbarrow and managed to drape him over it, though his arm flopped over the side and she ran over it a couple of times. Digging a hole deep enough took quite a long time, but it was eventually done.
Then she tipped him in and covered him over.
The following spring, she went to take a look at the apple blossom and became aware of an odd sort of smell near the tree. It was a sort of sweaty dirty-sock smell she’d only ever associated with unwashed humanity. It seemed to be coming from a small bush growing beneath the branches of the apple tree. It wasn’t very pleasant, so she went back into the house and forgot about the apple blossom.
A week later, the smell was stronger and there were odd-looking flowers growing on the bush. They were a sickly greenish-white color with rusty markings on them. When she went a bit closer, she could see they were a bit like pansies, only pansies had never grown on a bush, to her knowledge.
And they weren’t exactly like pansies either. Pansies have cat faces. But these flowers were more human-looking.
Not very nice human either. They seemed to glare at her from the dark green leaves.
She went to the bottom of the garden less and less that year. In the autumn months, she had to go and gather the apples and the bush was covered with waxy, plastic-looking red berries. They looked sort of hard and artificial, but where they had fallen to the ground they had squashed. Red, thick juice had spread from them.
She picked one up and for days afterwards her fingers had been red and itchy. The birds didn’t seem to like the berries either and avoided that area of the garden even though she had a proper bird feeder hanging from the branches of the apple tree.
The next spring, more of the bushes sprung up around the base of the apple tree. She didn’t bother picking the apples that year. There weren’t many of them on the tree anyway.
The following year, the bushes spread from the bottom of the garden up through the flower bed. The flowers she had planted had given up and all that was left was the dark glossy leaves and leering pansy-faces amongst them. She thought she would try digging them out of the flower bed. Armed with her thickest rubber gloves and garden spade, she marched to the attack. She started digging well away from the plant itself then worked her way towards it to find the roots.
The roots went a long way down. She dug and dug all afternoon till sweat ran between her shoulder blades down her back, though she didn’t actually feel very hot. When the hole was about four feet deep, the roots stopped growing downwards; they took a right-angled turn and grew towards the back fence and the apple tree. By the next week the skin of her back was covered in little blisters, which oozed and hurt. It took a fortnight for them to go away. After that, she avoided the garden if she could.
When the flowers started moving through the lawn, she bought the strongest weedkiller the garden center stocked and made it up double the recommended strength. She spent all one Saturday afternoon soaking the earth as close to the bushes as she dared go. Then she waited. The weedkiller was supposed to start working in forty eight hours and kill everything it had touched by the end of a week.
Two weeks later, she went to look at the bushes. The grass had disappeared completely from half the lawn, but the leaves on the bushes were, if anything, even darker and glossier than before. The faces in the flowers were laughing at her. They seemed to glow in the dark; she was sure she could see the light they gave off when she was sitting in her back room in the evening. She kept the curtains closed most of the time.
This year, the flowers reached the back door of the house.
After working for many years in one of Her Majesty’s less popular departments, Doreen achieved her ultimate goal of early retirement and settled down to what she should have been doing all along. She is currently working on two manuscripts for novels which bear no resemblance to her flash fiction works. In 2013 she was a NaNoWriMo winner, for which she has had to buy her own T-shirt.