The story I am about to tell you is something I've only shared with a few people through my entire life.
My house was built in the 1860s, the exact date we’re not entirely sure. A woman named Heather Gladshire was the owner. A civil war widow, she received a $100 check from the U.S. Government to build the house, which stayed in her family line up until the people we bought it from.
The house is one of the oldest in our town. At the end of our backyard is a tall concrete wall, smothered with ivy. Back in the late 1800’s, that wall was part of a massive greenhouse. Another home at the end of our street was the town’s funeral home. Heather Gladshire’s greenhouse was the source of flowers for all our town’s events. Flowers for weddings, flowers for ceremonies, and flowers for funerals. Lilys, Orchids, and the most unique, the Black Carnation. The petals are shimmering black, fading to a deep purple as they swirl outward with white tips. It’s one of the most stunning flowers I had ever seen, and certainly not native to our climate.
We bought the house from a pool builder. He had torn down the greenhouse and built a huge in-ground pool. When we bought it, there were beautiful black carnations growing all around the pool. Strangely however, they wouldn't grow any farther than the concrete wall that surrounded the pool.
“I’m not really sure where they came from,” he told us, “when I built the pool, they just started growing around it.” They didn’t grow anywhere else in town naturally. Though a bit morbid to think about, these mysterious funeral flowers were beautiful and my sister and I loved picking and saving them.
My mother, who is an avid antique dealer, was naturally fascinated with the history of the home and neighborhood when we moved in. After researching our home, we learned that a Revolutionary War ship captain named Steven Stow cared for 54 smallpox-infected war prisoners in our home, before dying from the disease himself. When a person passed away, their body was carried to the funeral home at the end of the street, bearing a bouquet of flowers from Heather’s greenhouse.
But I digress - as a child, whenever I got sick, my sister would buy me a stuffed animal to make me feel better. I would wake up during a nap and see a stuffed Snoopy or Pikachu lying next to me, with a black carnation flower on top. I always assumed she was being cute and picked a fresh one for me.
One day when I had the flu, I asked her to come in and help me shut my windows.
“Where did you get the carnation Michael?” she asked me.
“You picked it for me, didn’t you?” I asked.
She shook her head and replied, “They haven’t grown in our yard for years sweetheart.”
I thought about it briefly and realized she was right, and she knew I couldn’t have gotten them anywhere else. When we asked our parents, they both claimed the same happened to them. All these years, they thought it was my sister being cute, leaving flowers for everyone to make us feel better. It was just like her to do such a thing, and seeing that she hardly ever gets sick, she never experienced it. It was the strangest thing. Still, we were skeptical of her denial, maybe she didn’t want us to know it was her. But then things got freakier.
It began one day my Aunt had caught pneumonia. When we went to visit her, she spotted a black carnation growing in her yard, which hadn’t been there earlier that day. It was the first time we had ever seen one grow outside of our home, and it certainly wasn’t the last. Over the years, when a friend or family member became ill, we would often find a black carnation growing somewhere on their property. It came to us that we must have inherited some sort of stigma from living here. They followed us more and more, so we began calling it the Curse of the Black Carnation. Although it seemed harmless, it wasn’t something we were thrilled about. We don’t normally tell people about it either. It’s almost embarrassing to explain sometimes. People might think we’re crazy.
Now, nothing else odd would happen in or around our house. No ghosts or eerie sounds, knocks on doors, flying posters, random laughter, none of that. So we just kind of pretended the curse wasn’t there, hoping maybe it would go away.
One day, the aroma of the flowers suddenly filled the house. The smell was overwhelming, as if someone smashed a bottle of perfume right underneath our noses. Later that night, we got a call that my Uncle’s illness took a turn for the worse, and he wasn’t going to live very long. A few months after, the same scent filled our home just a day before my great grandfather passed away. About two years later, when my sister moved off to college, she claimed her entire dorm wreaked of the flowers the night a girl in her hall accidentally overdosed. And about four years ago, while my parents were on vacation in Antigua, my mother said the aroma filled their cabin during the day she learned her closest friend was terminally ill. He passed away that weekend, before they even got back. This odd mark of black carnations became a sign to us that someone very close was going to die. There was no telling who, where they would be, when it would happen, or how; just an ominous smell that would warn us a week, a day, or just an hour before it happened
As we all got older, the flowers would stop appearing. The deadly scent was the only indication the curse still existed. For years they didn’t grow in our yard. We didn’t see them when we were sick, and they stopped following us to friends and families homes. We thought we beat the curse.
That all changed about three years ago, when my father decided to fill in our pool. It was huge, and nobody used it. Wasting time and money taking care of it eventually led us to hate it, so he and I ripped out the concrete and paid a guy to fill it in with dirt. That left us with a giant strip of soil and no grass. But not even a week later, thousands of lilies, orchids, roses and black carnations began to grow, blooming at a miraculous speed. It was a stunning sight, yet none of them crossed the concrete wall or lines that marked the sides of the greenhouse. The variety of flowers flourished that summer. The following winter was a record warm for New England, and they continued to grow and bloom through the winter months.
In the spring, when flowers typically begin to to bloom, the mystical garden suddenly began to die. After a week of rain, flowers and grass was growing everywhere, and every last one of our mysterious flowers were dead. It was the strangest thing really, both disappointing and eerie. With our deadly track record of the flower’s scent, we were terrified it was an ominous sign of something terrible to come, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. That came as a big relief. At the same time, it began to confuse us even more. I began wondering if the curse was trying to make us go crazy, screwing with our heads, surprising us with incidents like this.
One day last year, my boyfriend was helping me move a couch into my room on the second floor. He lost his balance and fell over the railing, head first. He fell unconscious immediately. His head had split open and he was bleeding everywhere. I tried talking to him but he wouldn't respond. As the overwhelming scent of the flower began to fill the room, I freaked out and dialed 911. It seemed as if the smell got stronger at every passing minute, and every minute felt like an hour. Finally the ambulance arrived and rushed him off to the hospital. He was in critical condition. I followed the ambulance to the hospital. I began to cry as the tainted smell of flowers overcame me. The smell followed me, convincing me that he wasn’t going to live. I sat in the hospital, staring at my knees crying. I was so upset that I didn’t even notice the smell anymore - or the fact that it had completely vanished.
After what seemed like eternity, a nurse came in to tell me that he was okay, and I could visit him. He was sleeping when I got in the room, so I pulled a chair up to the bed and slept the rest of the night with him.
I woke up in the morning to the fresh scent of, you guessed it, flowers. My boyfriend was still sleeping. I looked up and saw a beautiful bouquet of assorted flowers from the hospital florist on the table. Different kinds too, some of them I didn’t even recognize. There was no card. When I got up and asked the nurse about them, she said she hadn’t even seen anyone enter the room with them. When I went back into the room, I took a look through the bouquet, and among all the roses, gladiolus, daffodils and tulips, was one black carnation. That was the last time I ever saw one.