“Well, what do you think?” Monica asked, wiping the sweat from her forehead onto the back of a gloved hand, mussing the black ringlets that had formed on her wet brow. She folded her hands atop the shovel handle and rested her chin there, fondly admiring her handiwork.
Dale stood on the front porch sipping a cup of coffee as he watched his wife lay down the shovel and remove her gardening gloves. “Looks good,” he said.
“Only good?” she asked incredulously, cocking her head. “Four hours of work out here in this hot sun, digging, planting, sweating…and all you can say is that it looks good?”
Dale chuckled. “It looks great, Hun. You did a wonderful job, and your flowers are an array of vibrant colors,” he said with the wave of a hand. “I just hope they turn out better than the ones last year did,” he added with a smile.
Monica knew what he was referring to. He had called her the bloom murderer for weeks after that debacle, when everything she had planted turned brown, withered and then died. “Me, too,” she agreed. “I don’t…” she began, her words abruptly interrupted by a violent round of sneezing.
“You alright?” Dale asked.
“I think so,” Monica answered, wiping at her nose. “Probably nothing more than allergies from all the pollen I stirred up.”
“Why don’t you call it a day and come inside and take a long, hot shower? I’ll fix you a cup of lemon and honey tea.”
“Sounds good,” Monica answered, picking up the shovel and the small green basket of gardening tools. As she made her way towards the tool shed, she was struck with another bout of explosive sneezing.
Monica was awakened from a deep sleep shortly after midnight by a horrible pain in her throat. Careful not to wake Dale, she slid quietly out of bed and walked down the carpeted hallway and into the kitchen, rubbing her throat along the way. The night light next to the stove provided enough illumination for her to see without having to turn on the overhead light. At the sink, she turned on the tap and held a finger beneath the running water until it began to get warm, and then filled a glass half full, added salt and gargled. It hurt to swallow, the excruciating pain recalling memories of the recurrent episodes of tonsillitis she’d suffered as a young girl. That situation had been remedied by having her tonsils removed and she’d never had another sore throat that severe…until now. “I must be getting a cold,” she whispered, rinsing her glass and placing it upside down in the dish drainer. Rummaging through a drawer, she found a flashlight and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind her. Monica turned the adjustable light switch knob to the brightest setting and stepped up to the vanity mirror. An external examination of herself revealed nothing out of the ordinary, certainly nothing to raise concern. Other than the sore throat, which seemed to be getting worse by the second, she didn’t feel sick or feverish at all. She stared into the mirror for several seconds, focusing her attention on the pain, wondering if this was nothing more than a common sore throat, or perhaps something more serious. The entire left side of her throat was pulsating as if it had a heartbeat of its own, throbbing to its own rhythm. She recalled the many times she had described her tonsillitis as “feeling like swallowing a razor blade,” but she didn’t remember it ever throbbing like this. Even more weird was that it felt as if something were crawling beneath the warm, moist skin. She turned on the flashlight, stuck out her tongue as far as she could and shined the light inside of her mouth. Nothing extraordinary there either. Perhaps it was somewhat redder than usual, but nothing that would cause alarm. Turning off the flashlight, she left the bathroom, returned to the kitchen and placed it back inside the drawer. She had no desire to use salt water again, so she opted for a throat lozenge instead. After popping it into her mouth, she immediately spat it into the garbage. The menthol only exacerbated the pain to the point that it was almost unbearable. The ache had grown so intense that she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to sleep. She made a mental note that if she didn’t feel better by morning, she would make an appointment to see her doctor.
“Dale, my throat is killing me,” she said hoarsely, pouring him a glass of orange juice, barely able to speak above a whisper. “I think I’m coming down with something.”
“So, it’s not allergies, then?”
“I don’t think so,” she answered, struggling to speak. “If it is an allergic reaction, I can honestly say that I’ve never had one this bad. Here,” she said, handing him the flashlight. “Look and tell me if you see anything.”
“Hmm, uh-hunh, hmm,” Dale said as he examined her throat. He then turned off the flashlight and handed it back to her.
“Well? Did you see anything?”
“A tongue, teeth, uvula, but nothing out of the ordinary.”
“I haven’t had a sore throat this bad since I was a little girl,” she told him.
“Maybe you’re having a bad reaction to something you planted yesterday. Flowers that you’re sensitive to, maybe?”
“I don’t know,” she said, shrugging.
“Do you remember getting any of the potting soil in your eyes or up your nose? Or did you accidentally inhale any of the fertilizer?”
“None of those,” she said. “But,” she continued, and then stopped.
“But what?” Dale prompted.
“It’s probably nothing, but the only thing I can think of is that I had a really hard time getting one of those drastic dandelions out of the ground. I pulled and pulled, but it didn’t want to let go, so I yanked it as hard as I could, and when I finally did get it to budge, I fell backwards with it in my hand and some of the dirt from its roots fell in my face.”
“That shouldn’t be causing you to have this kind of a problem with your throat. I mean, it is only dirt, afterall.”
Monica chewed thoughtfully on her lip. “It’s not the dirt that concerns me,” she explained. “It’s what was beneath it. I didn’t really think much of it at the time, but now…” she said, her voice trailing off.
“What was under the dirt, Monica?” Dale asked, sounding alarmed.
Lost in thought, Monica didn’t answer.
“Hmm?” she asked, returning her attention to Dale. “What did you say?”
“What was under the dirt?”
“Worms,” she answered. “Big, fat red ones, tons of them, knotted together and squirming all over each other. When I planted last year, I dug up a couple of them, but nothing compared to what I saw yesterday.” She paused and swallowed, grimacing at the pain. “When I finally pulled the dandelion out, the ground gave way under it, leaving a deep hole. More of a crater, actually,” she stated. “Deep enough for me to stick my whole arm in. You don’t suppose one of those worms got into my nose and burrowed itself in there, do you? Or somehow wiggled its way under my skin?”
“No,” Dale replied with a short laugh. “If a worm did by chance get into your mouth or nose, you would have swallowed it. Then you could just poop it out and be done with it. As far as one getting under you skin, which, by the way, I think is impossible. But if it did, I’m sure you would have felt it chewing its way through, don’t you?”
“Gross,” Monica said, shuddering at the thought of a worm being inside her mouth. Or worse, having one crawling around inside of her.
“Is there something else?”
“No,” she said, shaking her head as she gave it some thought. “Well, except for all of those little white things covering the roots. There seemed to be hundreds of those.”
“White things?” Dale repeated.
“Yes, but it wasn’t the roots themselves, they were on the roots,” she stated. “I have no idea what they were, but in hindsight, I can only say that they looked like maggots.”
As she had the night before, Monica was awakened when she began coughing, heaving so fiercely and deeply that every cough caused her to gag.
“Monica?” Dale said sleepily.
“I’m okay, honey, go back to sleep,” she told him as she slid out of bed, closing the bedroom door behind her. No sense in keeping Dale awake for something he couldn’t do anything about anyway. Besides, if she needed him, then, and only then, would she wake him. If only the doctor’s office could have gotten her in, perhaps he could have given her some medicine that would help her start to feel better. Unfortunately, they didn’t consider a sore throat an emergency and couldn’t get her in for another two days.
Doing the only thing she knew to do, she again gargled with salt water, but it didn’t help at all. In fact, the salt set her throat on fire.
With the flashlight in hand, Monica once more stood before the vanity mirror. Sliding the power button to the ON position, she shone the beam of light into her mouth – and took a step backwards in horror, dropping the flashlight as she covered her mouth with both hands.
What appeared to be a tonsil stone covered the left side of her throat. But Monica knew it wasn’t a stone, because of all the ones she’d ever had, none of them had been green.
She picked the flashlight up from the floor, hoping the loud noise hadn’t wakened Dale. When the bedroom door didn’t open, she knew it hadn’t and that he was probably snoring his way down the paths of dreamland.
She had to take another look – needed to. She must know whether or not what she had just seen inside her mouth was real – or a figment of her imagination.
Not only was it real, it had also gotten bigger.
At first glance, it had been about as big as a pea, and nearly the same color. Now, it had grown to the size of a penny – and had turned a darker green.
Monica began to cough and gag, struggling to catch her breath. When the incident finally subsided, Monica closed the lid on the toilet and sat down, shaken and frightened by it. She felt dizzy, lightheaded and winded. Looking at her hands, she saw that they were trembling uncontrollably. She rubbed them together and shook her arms in an effort to calm down. Her heart was pounding like a jackhammer inside her chest. She considered waking Dale up and getting to the emergency room, but reconsidered when the coughing fit passed and she began to regain her composure.
One last look at her throat, then she’d drink a glass of water, go back to bed and try to get some sleep, if that was possible.
Monica could not believe what she was seeing. In the short time that had elapsed since she’d last looked, the stone had grown even larger, extending almost to the center of her throat. What looked like tiny thorns extended from the sides of the circular stone, giving it the appearance of a sandspur.
A tickle began to build in Monica’s throat, warning her that yet another coughing and gagging spell was about to occur.
Hastily, she went into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water – but she didn’t get a chance to drink it.
She was overcome by a coughing fit so severe that it took her breath away. Whatever that thing was inside of her throat was now cutting off her airway, preventing her from being able to even breathe through her nose.
Monica felt as though she were being suffocated by an invisible hand that covered her face while it robbed her completely of all of her oxygen.
Tiny white specks of light flashed in the darkness around her like fireflies flitting about as they performed a farewell dance in her honor.
She clawed at her throat as she struggled to breathe, feeling a darkness descending down upon her – the black claws of death reaching out for her, beckoning to her, calling out her name.
As she collapsed onto the floor, she grasped the dish drainer, pulling it and all of its contents down with her.
“Monica?” Dale sprang from bed, awakened by the loud clamber of shattering glass and utensils as they scattered across the tile floor.
Stepping briskly into the hallway, Dale called out again. “Monica?”
The bathroom light was on and the door was open, but Monica wasn’t in there. Dale was taken aback as he rounded the corner from the hallway that led into the kitchen.
From the entranceway, he could see what appeared to be a dark figure slumped on the floor, but something didn’t appear quite right about the silhouette. In one essence, it appeared to be human, but the outline of a protrusion that extended upward from the body was macabre, and definitely out of place.
“Monica?” Dale said, approaching the figure and kneeling down beside it. He covered his mouth to stifle the scream that threatened to break through as he stared into the distorted face of what had once been his beautiful wife.
He could now see what had given such an odd appearance to the darkened form in the dimly lit kitchen.
Jutting from her mouth were six jagged leaves, spread out across her face like spider legs.
And in the center, one perfectly shaped, beautifully bloomed, single yellow dandelion.
Dale burst into a fit of maniacal, crazed laughter when he realized with horror that his wife, in her death, had become a human vase to the one species of flower that she had destroyed and prevented from growing in her garden.