“DON’T TOUCH THE MYOPATHIC SYCOPHANT PLANT!” The sign read.
The plant was a sickly purple-green. It had wobbly knobbles everywhere, broad leaves, and a great big flytrap mouth. It grew in a cowering shape, looking up at her from its position on the floor.
The little girl wanted to touch it.
She touched it.
It opened its mouth and screamed in pain. Then it collapsed. Upset, the child kneeled and cradled its head. Once this attention was received, the plant immediately started complimenting her and begging for money for its gardener bills.
The exasperated gardener approached. “Who touched that damn thing!” She said, one fist balled angrily on her coveralled hip, the other leading a hose.
The child screamed. She collapsed. She started complimenting the gardener and begging for money.
“You want to act like a plant, you’ll get treated like a plant,” the gardener said. She took the little girl by the shoulder and watered her thoroughly.
The girl stopped complaining and made gurgling noises instead.
When she considered her lesson well administered, the gardener pushed her back in the direction of her mother. “Learn to read,” she said. “Save you a world of trouble.”
The child tottered away, coughing and gasping.
The sycophant plant had seen what just happened. It huddled obscenely at the gardener’s feet in fear until its stem gave out and it collapsed completely.
“Oh, oh, oh,” it said. “You’re so strong and patient, won’t you help me up?”
“Ugh. I’ll get something to help stake you up,” the gardener said. As she headed toward the supply closet, she questioned her life decisions. Plants were getting to be too much like people. Why couldn’t she just garden roses? Roses were beautiful. They didn’t whine or moan or beg. They didn’t even think.
Sure, there were roses in this garden. But they had to be defended by increasing measures from the floral predators. Genetic engineering had gotten really out of hand here. The garden was a noisy place. The plants got into a lot of arguments.
She unlocked the shed and popped the door open. A slight resistance and then a tear. Oh no.
One of the plants and migrated into here and was rooting across the door. She knew which one it was before she even saw the tattered ficus leaves.
“Wandering Masochist! How many times do I have to tell you. You have a home.”
“But I like doorways,” the Masochist said.
“You don’t have to torture yourself like this. You have a home. Go where you belong. You have supportive friends there.”
“I don’t want to.”
“If you don’t want to… then isn’t that all the more reason to do it?”
The ficus’s leaves turned upward cheerfully at that, and it wandered off. Hopefully it would go where it was supposed to be, but she doubted it. It was sure to find a new doorway to root across and wait for the tearing roots again. That thing…
She grabbed a stake, a few ties, and a towel, then locked the door behind her. She stuffed the towel under the crack in the door. That might keep it out, for a little while at least.
On her way back, she tripped over the Deciduous Package Hauler, who, for lack of a job, had grabbed a handful of Panic Pansies and was attempting to haul them to the other end of the garden. She stopped to free them from its clutches, then gave it the stake to deliver to the Sycophant. Package Haulers were working plants, bred for factory life. They struggled in a lush botanical environment.
Letting the Hauler go ahead, she paused to take in an abundant overgrowth of peaceful pink blossoms. Beautifully formed, quiet, unassuming plants. She hung her fingers on the chain link fence before it, careful to avoid the electrified wiring. The fence couldn’t keep out their perfume.
Life used to be simple, back when she gardened with her grandfather. They would pull the biting weeds and spend a guilt-free evening watching them writhe instinctively on the burn pile. They would give graham crackers to the Ghost Cactus. It loved chewing on graham crackers. And as for the roses, all you had to do was plant and water them.
When she sighed and let go, she turned back to work and saw with a shock that the Orange Lynx Fungus had been watching her. Its eyes were dark spore holes, its teeth black drips. It knew the fence was electrified and had been staying away, but now that it had seen her touch the weak spots in the fence, it was sure to figure out a new way in. This thing’s life ambition, it would seem, was eating roses.
Along with everything else in the world.
So what if roses were things of the past. So what if they could no longer hold their own against a rapidly changing environment. She would remain a gardener here as long as they, too, remained. She would protect the roses, even if she could only ever see them through an electrified chain link fence, through razor wire, through impact-resistant terrarium glass if it came to that.