Short Story: The Erebus Plant

~This story is part of my short horror story collection Dead Elise & Other Stories, which you can download an e-copy of for free ~


September 12

Midnight

Somwýr Estate, Study

I return from the excavation site empty-handed and disheartened. Where Mr. Wallace promised ancient secrets, we found only dusty ruins.

Empty ruins, after half a fortune wasted!

The only thing of note we found was one chamber, sealed despite the years, that held a curious thing: a living garden of immense plants, sustained because the room was somehow filled with moist, fresh air.

Mr. Wallace was intrigued to study how the ancients constructed such a chamber, but I couldn’t share his enthusiasm. In all the ruins we found nothing–not a single hint in our translations of the endless hieroglyphs carved into the walls–which touched upon my interests.

Forgive me, Emily. I’m close to surrendering.

Wallace will continue excavating and reporting back to me via telegraph, but I fear that all the myths of the ancients possessing power over death may prove, after all to be nothing but lies and the fabrications of a pre-industrial society steeped in ignorance and superstition.

Perhaps my colleagues were right.

I will continue my search regardless, of course–whatever the cost–even as I’m met by ceaseless disappointment. I only fear I may never find a way to bring you back.


September 14

Midday

Somwýr Estate, Study

The strangest thing happened. When I returned to the estate, but two nights past, the gardens were in as excellent a condition as they have ever been in Murray’s hands. This morning, however, he informed me that a plant had sprung up amidst the gardens, growing to a large size overnight.

Unsure of what to make of this, I went to inspect the plant, and to my shock I recognized it! It was the same species as the ones I’d seen inside the sealed chamber. What’s more, this one was significantly larger than those specimens, standing two men’s height and spreading its roots several meters out. It had sprouted near the fountain and nearly obliterated the structure with its expansion.

Murray tells me he’s never seen anything of its kind. Neither had I, before the ruins. Seeds must have travelled on my clothes, all the way back home to England. It’s incredible that they would bloom so quickly, and in so different a climate!

I’ve told Murray to cut off samples from it and gather seeds, and get rid of the rest. There are experiments to be made here, but they must be regulated carefully. I cannot simply allow the plant to spread unhindered at so fast a rate.

Still, I am invigorated. Perhaps the inner workings of this plant hold some key to my research. It’s undeniably worth study in its own right.

If I can discover the workings of how it can grow and reproduce so swiftly–even as the other plants are wilting for the coming winter–I might unlock some hitherto-unknown mechanism of nature that I might apply, somehow, to my greater work. A long shot, yes, but perhaps this is a sign.

I don’t yet know if this will help me, Emily, but I’m hopeful.


September 17

Morning

Somwýr Estate, Study

Perhaps I was hasty in my enthusiasm. I fear I lack the tools to properly investigate these plant samples, as my research has so far turned up no clues to their inner workings. I shall have to send to the University and ask to lend their apparatuses.

As for the plant itself, Murray’s endeavours to destroy it have had their own complications. The root system is more robust and deeper set than he’d first thought. The plant matter is very dense and hard to cut–It’s hardly more yielding than a rock!–and fire has little effect upon it.

To worsen matters, the plant continues to grow. If that continues, we risk having it devour the grounds.

I’ve paused my experiments to work on chemical acids to combat the plant. The last batch was able to eat through my samples, and I have set to work making a larger quantity for Murray’ use. It may scar the gardens, but I trust in the old boy’s ability to obscure the damage after the plant is dealt with.

I’ve also begun drafting designs for a smaller enclosure to better contain the plant.

Soon, this distraction will hopefully be dealt with, and I can return to my true work.


September 17

Late Evening

Somwýr Estate, Study

I oversawMurray’s workers in their initial acid attempts. These are dangerous chemicals, after all, which could badly injure men and ruin soil without close oversight.

It’s a good thing I was there, or this latest development might have gone unnoticed: the acid, whilst eating away at one of the more central sections of the plant, revealed strange fruit hidden within its innards. The vaguely globular samples we extracted vary between smaller, flesh-red things and near-black fruit the approximate size of a human skull.

My initial investigation of these suggest that the red samples are seed capsules, easily opened or destroyed. A few burst while we removed them, no doubt spreading more seeds around for Murray to combat.

The ones that didn’t rupture in transport did so after I cut into the skin of them, nearly blinding me with a squirt of seed-filled gel. Though I washed it out, my eyes continue to sting and my vision is a little blurred. Curse my carelessness!

In any case, I have discovered that a careful incision can be made along the capsules’ circumference without bursting them. This allowed me to peel away the skin, revealing inner gel-capsules with a much thinner, translucent film around them–like the inner film of a chicken’s egg. These capsules hold the seeds themselves; very unlike other plants I am familiar with.

The larger, darker fruit specimen have a harder skin, and an almost hair-like texture, not unlike coconuts. I’ve not yet determined if these are the mature version of the red fruit or an entirely separate part of the plant–nor have I opened one for fear of over-applying pressure and causing another uncontrolled rupture.

I shall be gradual in my attempts to crack the ‘shell’, as it were, all whilst I hope Murray can finally get the plant itself under control.

The fountain, which initially looked repairable, has been completely ruined by this thing. I know you were fond of it, Emily. After this is over, I promise to have it rebuilt.


September 18

Evening

Somwýr Estate, Study

Everything is falling apart.

A telegram came through today from Mr. Wallace, informing me there’s been a string of God-damned cave-ins since I left for England. The latest killed a man and blocked off a yet-unexplored wing. Many other chambers and rooms have collapsed as well, burying our research efforts.

I wonder if the cause is the plants within the ruins growing as their English cousin has, now that their chamber has been unsealed.

The excavation will have to be put on indefinite hold while they re-dig what has already taken weeks to dig. If anything, there’s less uncovered now than when they began, and Mr. Wallace tells me that several local diggers have quit or simply vanished, and he’s had poor luck finding replacements.

No doubt they think the site is cursed. I’m almost inclined to agree with them.

Here in Somwýr, Murray’s battle with the plant has ground to a stand-still. It’s spreading even faster now, requiring constant chopping and trimming to keep in check, even with the aid of the acid–which is steadily running out. It’s so overgrown now that he can’t even access the heart of the plant and kill it at the root.

At this point, I wonder if the hired-on workers are being deliberately slow to earn more of my money.

As for the dark fruit I found within the plant, I finally managed to cut it open with the aid of my mechanical saw, which broke in the process. The insides share the texture of the outer shell, only smoothed by the cut. The entire thing is comprised by the same useless, rock-like, black material. It seems this was nothing but a lengthy distraction from my research.

I need a drink.


September 22

Evening

Somwýr Estate, Master bedroom

Several interesting developments occurred, the night after my last entry.

Somewhat intoxicated, I took a glass of brandy to the laboratory, where I’ve been conducting my experiments with the fruit. In my state, I sloshed the glass slightly too hard and spilled some brandy next to the broken saw, where there still was some powder residue from when I cut through the dark fruit.

The instant the alcohol contacted the dust it began to froth, releasing acrid smoke. To my horror, the mixture tore through the marble floor at an incredible rate, forming a large, smouldering hole.

After ventilating the room, I gathered up the remaining dust into a glass canister, hoping that the glass would hold the mixture when I reproduced the incident.

It did, initially.

Eager to test this new acid on the damned plant in my garden, I put a lid over the canister and left the room to go outside. In my intoxicated state, I failed to notice whatever reaction must have taken place after the top was covered, for half-way through the manor it exploded.

I was hit with both glass and acid, which burned through my clothing and scarred my face and skin. I’m lucky to have avoided the bulk of it, or so my Londoner physician claims. They called him down while I was unconscious.

It’s been three days since the incident, and I’ve spent most of them asleep, courtesy of the draughts he offered me against the pain. I’ve been haunted by terrible fever dreams in that time but. . . since I awoke from the last, a few hours ago, I’ve felt better.

The pain is almost entirely gone. I’m forever scarred, but the pain itself has been reduced to a manageable itch.

And somehow, through my fever dreams, I’ve been given insight.

I awoke with new. . . ideas. I dare not write them down, for fear it will confirm my madness–surely I must be mad?

I need to perform some experiments; ones I cannot do with that damn physician hovering around, insisting I rest and take his mind-fogging medicaments. I need to be alone and unrestrained, so I may think.


September 23

Morning

Somwýr Estate, Study

Every so often, some esoteric theory will circle the publications, concerning the mystical nature of dreams. In the past, I’ve always seen them as unfounded drivel, thinly disguised as scientific study.

But after my efforts of this night, inspired by my recent sickbed dreams, I wonder if they weren’t on the right track. I recall papers speaking of dreams as portals, a subconscious gate into a higher realm–the human mind’s way of processing certain information that would be entirely impossible to the waking, lucid man.

I thought it populist nonsense. My recent dreams have changed that. Those dreams did hold information–information I could have gotten from no other source–ideas that have led me to what might just be the most significant discovery of the modern age.

My hand trembles so bad that I can hardly hold a pen. I am terrified of putting to paper what I’ve discovered, for surely, I must be deluded. And yet the evidence sits here, on this very table’s corner.

If I held onto common faith, I would fear that God may strike me down. Blasphemously, I have assumed his Creator’s throne.

I have created life where there was no life. Sentient, if not sapient, but life.

Life!

I know it sounds mad, but I am staring at the proof.

In the dreams, my Muse suggested that I make changes to the acid derived from the plant dust. Chemical alterations, yes, but also alchemical.

I was offered the idea that the old and ineffectual practices of the proto-chemists may do for me what they never did for those predecessors. What they lacked, and I do not, is this plant, which has repeatedly demonstrated properties thought impossible. And this dream idea was so strong, so vivid in my mind, that I could not resist it.

All night I worked, and an hour ago, the mixture was complete. Ambrosia, I think I’ll call it; the divine elixir of Greek myth.

I don’t know why–don’t yet know why–but the final ingredient was blood. My Muse made it clear it was important. There were other elements too–I will not divulge full the process here–but at the very core of the elixir is blood and the powder from the plant.

Did Odysseus not use sheep’s blood to commune with the dead?

When it was done, I knew it instantly. Of course, I am an empiricist, so I had to confirm that the elixir worked, the way my Muse had told me it would work.

Emily, I used the wooden boy: the little knee-high sailor puppet you once treasured so, for reasons I could never understand.

When poured over the wood, the thick, viscous elixir seemed to vanish into it. The wood absorbed it hungrily, at the very instant that they touched. The metal hinges of his arms and knees, however, hissed at the exposure to a single droplet, and a dark, acrid smoke arose from them, which made me light-headed and gave me something of a nosebleed.

Perhaps it’s the organic nature of the wood, in contrast to the mineral lifelessness of steel, that does it? Perhaps. I’ll have to study these things further, but they hardly matter now.

It had to be a simulacrum of a man, that much I knew from my dreams. That’s why I used a puppet. I don’t know why, or if a figure of an animal would work as well, or what might happen if one used the elixir on a shapeless block of wood. All of that remains to be seen.

But. . . Oh, Emily, perhaps I’m mad. Nothing happened at first, but then. . . Mere minutes after your puppet had absorbed the elixir, he rose, on his own impetus! He rose, and looked at me through wooden eyes. Had he real lips, he may have spoken!

Despite expecting it, I nearly fainted from the shock. I hadn’t truly thought that it would work, you see. All through the night, a part of me had screamed that I wasted my time chasing dreams, like the fools I’ve oft disdained.

But the puppet was alive. It is alive.

It can understand me, and follow my commands. It walks a strange gait, limited by what mobility the metal hinges offer, but it walks. He is alive.

And soon, under my Muse’s guidance, you shall live too, Emily.

Is this not why I financed Mr. Wallace in the first place? To find a means to bring you back? My peers would’ve laughed if I was frank about it, but this puppet would still their laughs.

Life itself, within my power to create!

I’m reminded of the Latin: Aut viam inveniam aut faciam. I shall find a way, or I shall make one.


September 25

Evening

Somwýr Estate, Study

I told Murray to cease his attempts at destroying the plant; after all, it holds the secret of life itself, and thus, perhaps, divinity.

Amazingly, he argued with me! Outright, he refused–a thing that angered me so badly that I could do naught but take my cane to his treacherous hide.

Murray, who’s been here since my father’s days! I had thought him wiser than to refuse the lord of the manor’s wishes.

I will admit to some regret for striking him. It feels perverse to punish your servants in such a primitive way–especially ones that have been with you for so long. For my part, I blame a lack of sleep, which has made me prone to easy agitation.

Ever since my discovery, sleep has been a thing difficult to obtain; a matter doubly irritating as it deprives me of my Muse. The laudanum that the physician gave me against my pain has run out; I’m considering the order of more, just to commune with her.

Perhaps I was hasty in sending him away. I’ve developed a bad cough; today it stained my handkerchief with blood.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t need sedatives were it not for these constant interruptions from my staff! Each time I am attended, I must hide the signs of my research–the wooden boy especially–until the distraction passes. Even here, in a supposedly enlightened land, old superstitions run deep, and I would not be surprised if these simple-minded fools tried to burn me at the stake if they discovered what I’d done.

The stress of it all must be what’s hindering my sleep. Already stress has whitened my hair before its time. I was appalled to find a large streak of it in the mirror this morning, after I recalled I hadn’t shaved since my injury.

It’s all the damn serving staff’s fault. If I did not have need for them, I would have sent them away already, like I did with Murray.

In fact, I’m sure the puppet could do most of their work, were he bigger in stature, and that thing has no wits at all!

I rather think I shall send for more puppets, and carving tools. And opiates.


September 27

Evening

Somwýr Estate, Study

Send a man for milk and you’ll be lucky if he manages to bring home butter. Despite my specific instructions to purchase puppets made as wood-pure as possible, some half of the dozen I was brought have disabling metal imperfections. How difficult can it be to find puppets with wooden ligaments, that don’t suffer from the metallic stiffness of my first subject?

I’ve rid myself of the man who purchased them for me. I’ve rid myself of all the estate staff; save for a few workers, who I have set to harvesting both wood and the fruit of the ever-growing plant outside. They’re paid sickening sums for the work.

Meanwhile I’ve set my puppets to attend me. The impure ones. Those finer, more flexible ones are at work carving their betters: wooden men, made according to my precise schematics–the design inspired by dissections of a few of the less able puppets.

I will need these mute, inhuman servants for what’s to come. Some of the tasks my Muse suggests would be detestable to a real man. It is detestable for me, who will only issue the order; yet it seems the only path forward.

Were it not for her intervention in my dreams–which continue to elude me, even as I ingest more of the insight-giving poppy-drug on which I have so quickly become reliant–I would be a blind child, grasping in the darkness.

I wonder, sometimes, if it might not be you, Emily, who are my faceless Muse. If you are–will you remember these actions of your ethereal spirit, after I return to you corporeal form?


September 30

Evening

Somwýr Estate, Parlour

My wooden laborers are complete. It seems these things are well-equipped to follow precise instructions–even of some complexity. Good.

This means, of course, that I have no more need for those over-paid laborers, who merely wrestle plants and expect fortunes for it.

Luckily, I have found a much more beneficial use for them–or rather, for their fluids. After all, there is only so long I can continue to drain myself of blood to bring life to my creations. And I shall need a lot of the elixir to revive you.

A detestable undertaking, I know, but entirely necessary. I pray you do not judge me too harshly for it, Emily. I do it all for you.


October 2

Evening

Somwýr Estate, Study

There are flaws to having no human servants. For one, I have to receive visitors at my door in person, like a commoner, as I did around noon. I couldn’t exactly send a wooden man to the door, now could I?

The interruption came from a young lad inquiring into the whereabouts of one of my workers, who hasn’t returned home in two days or so.

I told him that I had sent those last few men away, as I had the rest of my staff, with a month’s severance pay and the instructions never to return. I said that I had no idea–nor took any responsibility for–what might have happened to them after they left the estate grounds, and told the lad to tell the others in the town the same (even though I seem to recall the other workers were travelling labourers, who should not be missed).

He seemed to take my word, though I’m sure suspicions will resurface against me soon. I must make haste in my work, so that it is completed before I flee, should I need do so.

Switzerland, I think, in that case–but if I leave the country, I do it with you, Emily, or not at all.

I must work fast, and send my wooden men out in the cover of darkness to collect supplies.

Tomorrow will be the time to conduct my experiment, according to my Muse’s instructions.


October 4

Midday

Somwýr Estate, Master bedroom

It seems that I overindulged in the substances I use to sleep. I took some laudanum (most of my remaining supply, I’m afraid–I was in pain) shortly after my last entry, and I’ve only just left the fugue it put me in.

I shall await with the final experiment until night-time, both for the weakened state my body is in, and for the spiritual properties of the so-called witching hour.

I don’t believe in such superstitions, as I have stated, yet I am willing to put forth that they may have been borne from observation of a real phenomenon; something that’s since been misconstrued by simple minds into faerie tales.

Indeed, I’d wait for the 31st if I could, just on the slim chance that Halloween is as significant a date as folktales claim. But I cannot wait. Since I’ve come out of my haze, I’ve worried more and more that I will be discovered if I linger. It may be unfounded paranoia, or it may be my dream-Muse warning me.

Also, I’m running out of time a different way: there was great pain when I just now visited the lavatory, and in my droppings, I found a great deal of blood. I think perhaps my continuous exposure to these plant substances (in their divinity) has ravaged my mortal body.

I care not. As you promised in this latest dream, you’ll bring me back alongside you, should I perish. We can join in immortality.

I only have to find the strength of conviction to go through with this first–to venture into the house of Hades and Persephone, and emerge with you.

Tonight is the night.


October 4

Midnight

Somwýr Estate, Laboratory

I have beside me a great amount of the elixir that shall bring you back to me, Emily. It shall grant you true life, I think–not the pitiful half-animation of those wooden constructs that stalk my halls.

The secret, as you told me in my dreams, lies in material. They are wooden, through and through, and limited thus. For you, on the other hand, I use more than merely wood. If I had access to your body, of course, still fresh, I could simply use that.

Instead, I have used clay, as Prometheus used clay to shape man, and I have mixed it with your essence; the very ashes of your body, and mixed it further with the dust of that divine plant that’s devoured my gardens.

I’ve shaped this clay into your shape, which beneath my loving fingers easily took on your form; a form which I have held so vividly within my memories for all these years.

You are perfect, I think, in every way, except your lack of breath. Certainly more perfect than I, in my degenerating body. I was ignoring it as symptoms of my recovery and stress, yet I can pretend no longer. My hair has gone shock white, though most of it has fallen out, as have several of my teeth. My body has run through its stores and now burns flesh to sustain me–and, of course, my throat and bowels seem full of blood.

Is it possible that I could have been so preoccupied as to have missed these symptoms before? Recalling the past month, these past few weeks especially, there is much I don’t remember–in such a state have I been. Yet it was worth it, for without my utmost dedication, I doubt my work would be done tonight.

I’ve left instructions for you, Emily, should I succumb before I can show them to you. Of course, much of them came from you, my beloved Muse, so they may serve you no purpose.

I only ask that you do for me what I now do for you–what I would have done for you, even in perfect health, if I stood nothing to gain but to hear your voice again.

I love you, Emily. I envy poets their ability to put love into words. I can assure you, mine is greater still than any they could dream to describe. After all, what other man in modern times has braved Erebus to rescue his beloved?

All that remains is for me to bathe you in the elixir, and you shall be mine again. Where Orpheus once failed to rescue his sweet Eurydice, I will succeed. 

As the witching hour strikes, my love, I swear that you shall live again.


I’ve made a horrible mistake. I see that now.

Perhaps now I see clearly for the first time in weeks, unhindered by the fugue of opium and the foul influence of whatever creature came to my dreams, dressed in my darling’s guise.

God, what have I done?

It only took a glimpse into her eyes to see my folly. Those eyes: not Emily’s at all, though they bore her same shape and colour. There’s something dark there, something that words alone cannot define.

If those superstitions I have so often scoffed at had one thing right, it is this: Evil exists. True, primordial, indescribable Evil–that is what I saw behind those eyes, even as she attempted to pull me into an embrace.

Had I not glimpsed that, just then, I fear what may have happened. I fear what’s happening right now.

I managed to pull away and flee, and I have locked myself inside my study, yet she is out there–the creature that bears Emily’s face–calling for me with Emily’s voice. Calling, and scratching at my door.

How long can a mere door hold it back? What earthly deterrent can there be for such a thing; such a vile, unnatural, blasphemous thing that I have made from a simulacrum and the ashes of my wife, in my attempt to make life from death? Whatever terrible un-life possesses that creation; it should never have been wakened.

I’m safe, for now. I despair over my failure, and I fear for my own life–for even if the door holds, where shall I find my rescue? I have no servants that may come to my aid, save those wooden abominations, made from the same desecration that conjured forth this creature. They, too, turned on me and tried to restrain my flight.

Even if rescue comes, it must come soon to be on time. I’m growing weaker by the hour. Perhaps my strength has been leeched by my unholy creations.

Already, I can barely walk, or breathe. I can feel blood cysts fill my insides–can taste them.

Yet there she is, with Emily’s voice and countenance, promising me that she can give me life again. Life eternal, whatever sort of cursed life that would be.

Through the door, unable to gaze into her eyes, I almost think that she is Emily, and my heart burns for her, as fiercely as my now-venomous blood burns my insides.

Perhaps I was wrong in what I saw; perhaps it is my Emily. Maybe I’m letting myself get caught up in silly superstition–after all, how can one see true Evil just by glancing into another’s eyes? Emily’s eyes, of all things.

I’m torn, and I am weakening. I may perish right here, and it would take weeks before they find my body.

Or I may open my door and accept Emily’s–that thing’s–embrace.

God, what have I done? What will I do? I’m losing the ability to reason, to see which path is right and which is. . . condemnation.

I have made terrible mistakes. Am I making a greater one by keeping the door locked?

She calls my name out there. In her voice, I hear only the voice of my beloved. The voice that’s haunted my dreams for three years. I hear it now with waking ears, and it is her. It must be her. It must be! My Emily. . .

art by lunalita
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Happy October;)

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