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Halloween Short Story : Arboretum

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.




King's Hospital, Present Day

“White male, third degree burns, it’s ugly. BP ninety over seventy, pulse sixty, irregular, hardly palpable, GCT five. All veins collapsed to buggery, I had to do a brachial cut down. I have pushed in a litre of saline, ET tube is in, O2 hundred percent, almost arrested on the way in.”

The Paramedic rattled on in a staccato voice as he raced with the trolley.

“Thanks John, good job, we’ll take him from here…any relatives?”

“The Police and Firemen are out there, nasty business. I don’t know if there was anybody else in the house.”

Dr Frank Farmer moved the trolley into position and rubbed his bleary eyes. It’s going to be a long night.


The Diary of Stephen Root

OCT 10: A parcel arrived today. I was busy in the Arboretum when the doorbell rang. I rubbed a clear spot in the steamed glass wall and peered outside. It was raining. The postman stood at the door looking around curiously. The greenery surrounding my house had exotic flora intermingled with the local plants. I discouraged passing visitors who drifted in to gape at the botanical splendours. I like my privacy too much.

As I walked up to the door, Rebus came along and rubbed herself against my legs, purring lazily. I collected the parcel at the door. The postman smiled as he saw Rebus. He bent down and rubbed her back, ‘Here kitty, kitty’. How original.

She followed me into the study as I carried the parcel inside. I was intrigued. It was wrapped in waxy brown paper and the sender’s address was illegible. The stamps had a Polynesian face on them and the name ‘Mumbutu’. All I could make out from the sender’s address was the name ‘Kensington’.

Jack Kensington. The last time I met him was five years back, at the Royal Botanical Society. The bastard must have secured funding for that field trip he had been planning for years. I envied him. Mumbutu, as I recalled from his lecture, was a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. Small but covered with dense rainforests that were largely unexplored. The place must be teeming with thousands of new species.

I unwrapped the parcel and an earthy smell emanated from inside. A large porous polythene bag filled with dark, loamy soil. A specimen! He has actually sent me a specimen!

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I spread the soil on the wrapper and scoured it with shaking hands. Few blades of grass and twigs of tender roots emerged. Nestled in the middle was a seedling. From the looks it had just started germinating. It had peculiar orange shade specked with blood red. Two minuscule leaves were emerging from the apex. There was nothing else in the parcel, no letter or even a note. Most peculiar indeed.


King's Hospital, Present Day

“ Mandy, get me some more saline. Need an O2 tent. This guy’s fried.”

Frank lifted the patient out on the count of three and bits of skin clung to his gloves. The smell of roasted human flesh pervaded the burns unit. Frank quickly checked his pupils, pinpoint but faintly reacting. No response to pain, but then he was beyond pain. To burn this much was going past that threshold, past all known limits of pain.

“Has he had any morphine?”

Mandy nodded.

Frank quickly catheterised the patient to check the urine output.


The Diary of Stephen Root

OCT 16:

I am amazed at the rate the plant is growing. The warm thermal currents and the humidity in my Arboretum seem to suit it perfectly. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out the species.

I went through the database and failed to come up with a match. A new find? I couldn’t imagine why Jack sent it to me.

It now rested in the corner of the Arboretum in a large earthenware pot. Almost eight inches tall, the stem was slender and juicy. The leaves had opened up this morning and had the same orange hue as the seed. The plant enchants Rebus. She keeps going up to it and sniffing around. Sometimes she sits staring at the orange glow as if it was some kind of hypnotic jewel.

I rang the Botanical society to check if they had any information on Jack Kensington’s filed trip. Apparently he had flown to Seychelles and hired a local team from there before proceeding on to Mumbutu. That was two months back. No further information was available. Like me, Jack had no near relatives. There was no one to contact for further information. I wondered if he was still exploring the sylvan splendours. A wave of jealousy swept through me.


King's Hospital, Present Day

There were no recognisable features. The face was a ragged mass of melting flesh, blisters already mushrooming all over. The eyebrows were singed to extinction. The lids were raw. The mouth clung around the ET tube like a fat leech. Wherever Frank touched his my fingers sank half an inch. Gelatinous serum oozed and spidery trails arched between his gloved fingers. The body looked like a mummy. Knees drawn up and arms clenched. It was a wonder the patient was still alive.


The Diary of Stephen Root

OCT 22:

The flower was spectacular. Last night it had just been a small bud. Now it looked like a massive poppy blossom. The petals had the same orange hue of the leaves, but had blood red streaks running along their outer surface. They curved up to meet at the top, like a pod. I was curious to have a look at the interior. It had a very strange odour, pleasant but strange. The scent was reminiscent of wet earth and jungle foliage. It had a certain primitive quality about it.

I was standing next to it sketching in my notepad. Rebus sat at the foot of the pot, deep in one of her trances. The flower suddenly started drooping, as if it was getting heavier. Rebus jumped back startled, making angry noises. She got braver and walked closer to the blossom.

I had a funny feeling about this. I hoped it wasn’t a giant Venus Flytrap variant.

The petals quivered and burst open unravelling the golden interior. I stood fascinated as rows and rows of stamen revealed themselves. They were topped with golden beads of pollen. It made a gentle popping noise and exploded in the air. It was beautiful. Thousands of golden specks floated all around us and the smell got stronger. I looked down to see Rebus running around in circles, pawing the floating pollen. I hoped it wasn’t noxious. I sneezed as the pollen particles ascended my nostrils. I collected a handful and put them in a specimen bag.

Rebus started sneezing as she too breathed in a lungful.


King's Hospital, Present Day

“It’s a bloody miracle he is alive,” said Colin. He sipped his steaming cup of coffee and took a bite from the muffin. Frank nodded wearily.

The canteen was deserted. A solitary nurse glided through towards the coffee machine like a lost angel. Frank hadn’t slept for two days and it was showing. Everything looked dreamy through his eyes. Colin’ s swarthy face shimmered inches away.

“You look like shit, man,” his voice echoed in a distance, “Go get some sleep.”

“I am on call for another twelve. Someone’s called in sick”

“You are mad, you know that?”

“I knew that when I entered Med. school, pal.”

“Well, the guy is stable. The respirator hasn’t beeped. His fluid volume is fine. You catch some sleep. I’ll hang round in case they need anything.”

Frank drank the dregs of his bitter concoction and threw the cup in the bin. “Thanks Colin. I think we have to do an escharotomy in the morning. He is going to end up with a lot of strictures”

Frank walked the empty corridor to the rest room as he contemplated his patient. He is going to need a lot of work. Eschars are thick scars that form in the skin tissue after a third degree burn. Unless they are slit open, the patient could end up with severe deformities as the healing skin assumes tight scars and loses its elasticity. Surgeons usually released these strictures by slicing through them one by one. Nasty work, but someone has to do it.


The Diary of Stephen Root

NOV 10:

I am worried about Rebus. She used to be such a docile creature. Now she acts as if she is a jungle predator. I woke up today to find the bloody remains of a bird laid at the foot of my bed. A gory mass of feathers and bone, tiny head torn clean from the body. It lay there staring at me with glassy eyes, beak partially open.

I looked around and spotted Rebus curled up in the corner of my bedroom. A feather clung to her mouth, moving up and down with her breathing. A smell of raw flesh hung in the room.

She woke up as I bent down to remove the feather from her mouth. She snarled, revealing sharp incisors. I jerked my hand back and made comforting noises. She reared her head, shiny pupils glaring at me. Her paw came up, claws extended.

She didn’t look right. Her left eye was bulging from its socket and there was a small bulbous swelling on her head. She must have got into a fight in her wanderings. I cautiously rubbed her back and she quietened down. I brought her a bowl of milk and watched her lap it up. I hoped she wasn’t hurt too much, there was no vet around for miles. I felt the swelling on her head and it was boggy, like a big bruise. I gave her some antibiotics I kept in the house for emergencies.

King's Hospital, Present Day

Frank slept fitfully. He smelt burnt flesh and fumes in his dream. A scarred face swam through a sea of fire. He woke up with a start as his beeper went off. He squinted his eyes at the watch. God, it was seven in the morning. He swung out of bed and ran into the bathroom for a wash. He grabbed a quick cup of coffee and walked towards the burns unit. Mandy was on duty.

“How’s our patient?”

“Stable. We have had some urine output so guess his kidneys haven’t shut down. His blood gases are fine.”

“Great. Set up an Escharotomy tray, Mandy, It’s time to slice and dice.”

Mandy grimaced. “I hate this part.”

“ How do you think I feel?” Frank sighed.

The Diary of Stephen Root

NOV 12:

Rebus is dead. I killed her today. I killed my only companion for six years. I didn’t mean to, but I had no other choice.

I was pruning in the Arboretum when it happened. I saw her sitting near the plant, staring at it like she does every day. She was tilting her head from side to side, deeply engrossed. I carried on with my pruning when I heard her purr angrily. A sudden convulsion shook her frail body and she turned around to look at me.

Her pupils were wide and evil. I backed off slowly, talking to her. She taunted me like I was a prey.

Her left eye was bulging more now.

She dived suddenly, when I least expected. One paw sliced down my left cheek, drawing blood.

I lifted my hands to protect my eyes. She clung to my hair and her paws slid down my chest.

I slapped her off and she shot across the Greenhouse in a furry ball.

She came at me again, her eye now dangling from its socket, held only by the bloody thread of her optic nerve. The eyeball was oozing fluid and looked like a glazed marble. For a tender creature, she was in such a rage. She pounced.

I lifted my arms again in defence, still clutching my pruning shears. She impaled herself on the sharp blade. The shears entered her soft underbelly, cutting through the tissue like butter. Her paws clawed the air and her body went limp. I still held the shears, shocked at what had happened. My stomach churned.

She moved again, her head rearing up in a rictus of pain. Ripples of spasm ran through her body as the swelling on the top of her head exploded.

An orange flower blossomed through the top of her skull, glistening with bits of her brain.

King's Hospital, Present Day

Frank worked his way around the patient's body, slicing and releasing gently. He didn’t budge. He was full of morphine. Frank picked up one arm and slid the scalpel around the front of the elbow. Little blisters popped and oozed serum mixed with blood. The skin was thick and getting harder. He made horizontal incisions and gradually straightened the arm. He started on the hips and legs. Some work went into the side of the neck. The vitals were stable as Frank glanced up at the monitors.

The Diary of Stephen Root

NOV 13:

I dissected Rebus in the garden shed. Her head still held the blossom. She looked like a like a bizarre Dali painting. I worked my way from neck upwards, using a saw to open her cranium. The tiny beads of pollen had lodged in her upper nasopharynx; I spotted small tendrils creeping into the brain through the cribriform plate above the nasal cavity. The frontal lobe lodged the stem, where the plant had germinated, probably using the nutrients in the cerebrospinal fluid. Small roots travelled everywhere, like neuronal paths.

The plant must have been using Rebus as a secondary host. The inhaled pollen must have taken hold of the brain through the nose and the roots were like nerve paths communicating, binding, changing behaviour, parasitising her brain.

King's Hospital, Present Day

“Mandy, come and have a look at this” Frank sat staring at the scalp. The scalp doesn’t usually blister that much due to the thick fascia that supported the skin. There was a large blister in the apex of the skull; the contents didn’t look like serum.

“Do I really have to?” Mandy moaned from outside.

The Diary of Stephen Root

NOV 22:

It is time.

The headaches started last week. At first it was a dull throbbing sensation in my forehead. I started having blackouts. My sense of smell heightened. I could smell things that I have never smelt before. The birds in the garden, a rabbit hopping through the foliage, the rodents in the shed… all vivid and exciting. My instincts were sharp.

I smelt the postman the this morning before he came up the path. I felt a blinding flash in my head, like a bad migraine. I cannot remember what happened. When I came around I was sitting in the corner of the shed, the taste of raw flesh in my mouth. The postman’s head rested on my lap, empty sockets rimmed with jagged flesh staring at me. Bits of his cheek were missing.

I vomited on the floor, wave after wave of nausea racking my body. Blood, raw meat and bits of hair spattered on the walls.

I don’t know why I write this, I know no one will ever read my journal. The fumes of Petrol hang everywhere. I hacked the plant to pieces earlier and fed it to the composter. I flooded the Arboretum and the garden shed with Petrol. My head hurts, flashes of light course through my eyes. The spores must be everywhere. I can only hope that they will incinerate in the inferno.

I have locked all the doors. I stare at the book of matches lying on the table.

It is time.


King's Hospital, Present Day

Mandy looked green. “Yech. What is it?”

“I don’t know. It’s unusual to see blisters on the scalp. Look at the bony margins though, they look eroded. I think we should get a head CT. Please ring Radiology for me, will you?”

“ Jesus, it moved!”


“The blister just moved!”

As Frank turned to look at it, The blister exploded. An orange hued pod burst through the scalp and curvy red blood vessels streaked on the petals. Rows and rows of glistening stamen popped open through the tissue debris. Mandy screamed.

Large flecks of gold floated around them as we stood watching. There was a sweet, pleasant smell in the air, wet earth and jungle foliage. Frank and Mandy gasped and removed their surgical masks and started sneezing.


© 2010 Mohan Kumar


Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on November 01, 2012:

Creepy - perfect for this time of year. That poor cat...and poor Stephen. Massive quarantines are in the near future. LOL. Well, I think I'll go pet my own cats and be thankful they don't have bulging eyes. And note to self: if a strange plant comes in the mail and blows its pollen all over the place, be worried. Be very worried. :)

Cynthia B Turner from Georgia on November 01, 2012:

Yep. Voted this up. That the kind of story I like to read. Fantastic. Shared with followers and tweeted.

Mary Craig from New York on November 01, 2012:

You could be a troubador though you might be banned in some towns. This was riveting. You did forewarn it could be gory but oh the best of Halloween tales! I voted this one all the way across and shared with my followers!!!

KDuBarry03 on October 31, 2012:

Wow; very dramatic, enticing and creepy. Great job on this one, Docmo!

Elizabeth from Some Sunny Beach, USA on October 11, 2012:

Well done, well done. I enjoyed this emensly. You are a fantastic writer. Voted up and awsome!

Jonathan McCloskey from Cinnaminson, New Jersey on October 10, 2012:

This is just perfect, Docmo, I'm glad I read this within the month of October and so close to Halloween too. The story is as compelling as it is brilliant, well done.

Dana Strang from Ohio on September 21, 2012:

this is an awesome story!!! Thrilling! What a great storyteller you are! I love how you go back and forth from the hospital to the journal. Please write more like these!!! Voting up, etc. of coures.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on September 21, 2012:

I wish HP had an eerie button, I would have clicked it a few times. I'll be more cautious with parcels I get from "friends." Awesome story Doc, thanks for the nightmares :)

Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on September 21, 2012:

Ahhhh! Like I said, the best fiction writer on HubPages. (The bio terms were a nice touch.) Great work, voted up and AWESOME!

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on November 25, 2011:

This is a very compelling story. It really is fascinating, even with the disgusting images produced by your writing. The concept is right out of sci-fi. He tried to stop the spread of this organism. It makes me wonder what happened to the friend who sent him this and if there was some reason he did not like him.

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