“Gross! Don’t touch it!”
Judith whined, recoiling as George prodded at the fleshy lump in the side of the cypress tree with a sharp stick. Little Thomas spoke up from beside her, pointing at the thing excitedly and smiling ear to ear.
“Look! It’s movin’!”
Sure enough, their discovery twitched in response, the fleshy hole in its center slowly beginning to open and close. It was an odd thing, the children knew at least that much. From a distance it had just looked like a flower on a tree, but when they had gotten closer they had noticed its peculiarities.
For one thing, it had a mouth, a fang-filled maw that had seemed dormant up until this experimental stick-poking. That in itself was bizarre, but during the children’s inspection of it, they noticed that the throat of the thing on the tree seemed to stretch on for miles. A grotesque tube filled with teeth, going on and on, longer than it had any right to. This discovery was quickly shoved to the wayside upon closer inspection of the large pink petals the thing had, the mouth-hole resting in the middle of what looked like a pile of tongues, each with many white protrusions. It had been Judith to notice what exactly the white shards were, human teeth, seemingly growing out of the flesh of this meat-flower.
Judith was cautious of the thing, as she was with everything she did not understand, but George and Little Thomas were excited and curious about this new discovery and there was no way she was walking back through the swamp alone. The boys laughed at the thing, enjoying the spectacle of the hungry maw twitching and burbling, some of the petals lapping at the air, many of the teeth retracting inwards. Every movement it made, Judith took a step back. It just looked…wrong. She had always seen the same kinds of plants in the swamp outside the house, and there had never been anything like this in father’s flower books.
Judith twirled a lock of brown hair in her fingers as George experimentally put the tip of the branch into the now-gnashing gullet, dragging the pudgy, bespectacled child a few steps forward as the stick in his hand was chomped down on and pulled in violently. He shrieked, releasing the stick as the flower devoured it hastily, splinters of wood flying through the air at the force those many rows of razor-sharp fangs were showing with every bite. Every one of the petaltongues lashed aggressively now, their many tiny teeth jutting out and wiggling violently as it mindlessly consumed the invading object.
Little Thomas shrieked loudly, his shrill voice piercing the air and drowning out the sounds of slurping and chomping, Judith and George quickly following suit and taking several steps back, eyes filled with a sudden and immediate terror at the sudden threat to their lives. Judith pouted, straightening her dress before stamping her feet adamantly, shoulder-length brown curls bouncing angrily as she made clear her displeasure.
“I told you not to touch it, George! I don’t like it, I wanna go home!”
George fixed his glasses, puffing his cheeks out grumpily and giving a pout straight back at the younger female. He folded his arms across his chest.
“Fine, you big baby! If you’re gonna be like that, we’ll just leave you behind next time!”
Little Thomas piped up, mimicking the pose of the larger boy beside him and giving a sneer in Judith’s direction. She blushed red, then stuck her tongue out, taking a seat against another cypress and crossing her arms as well. The situation upset her, but not enough to warrant losing her playmates. George nodded at Little Thomas and turned his attention back towards the unusual flower.
He rubbed his chin for a moment, pudgy fingers brushing across pale, freckled skin as he considered what to do with their discovery next. It was hardly moving at all, dormant as it had been when they found it. Suddenly, Little Thomas had an idea.
“You wanna throw rocks at it?”
The two boys beamed. Judith opened her mouth to speak, then went back to sulking. If they wanted to get themselves hurt, who was she to stop them? They didn’t want to listen to her, after all. George and Little Thomas dug through the dirt and grabbed the biggest rocks they could find, the larger child rubbing his sweaty hands on his stretched cardigan before taking aim at the flower.
The rock loosed with more force than George had expected, bumping against the petals hard enough to leave a bruise on one. The oddity howled in pain, its wails echoing throughout the forest, loud enough to force the children to cover their ears. The teeth covering the creature’s tongue-petals seemed to bare, dozens of them nearly in danger of digging their way out of the bumpy flaps entirely as they wiggled and squirmed, the flower furious at having been struck. The pink organs flailed and thrashed hungrily, slurping maw jetting out a long black tendril from somewhere in its chasm of a throat and thrashing it through the air wildly, desperately searching for whatever attacked it.
Little Thomas yelped and threw his rock square at the flower, unable to think of anything else to do. Another gibbering howl sent the birds flying out of the trees, the long, shrill sound bringing Judith and George to their knees, hands covering their ears. The youngest among them was not so lucky, however. His gaze fixed on the black tendril, his ears deafened as he watched it slow its flailing, the tip splitting and peeling back to reveal a milky white eye.
More dripping tendrils began to form off of the first, each one stretching out several feet before splitting to reveal eyes of their own. The monster’s shriek had stopped, but Little Thomas could still hear the ringing, two small pops the only indication that the boys eardrums had broken. His eyes trained on the curious, watching eyes, constantly multiplying as they slithered closer still. George called out to him, he thought, but his voice seemed a million miles away.
One of the flower’s tar-dripping tentacles surged forward, followed by what was now hundreds more, moving as a concentrated mass towards Little Thomas’ face, the boy’s eyes spinning round and round. Many drove down through his mouth, shattering teeth as they filled up his stomach, others filling into his ears, into his eyes. They moved clumsily, dragging him to the ground with some effort before steadily pulling the new meal in closer. Oily tendrils caressed his brain, and both Judith and George screamed in utter horror as they watched their friend smile, tiny hands clawing at the dirt as if trying to get closer to the thing on the tree, his eyes a pure white and his skin pale as death as he desperately flopped himself across the dirt.
Sobbing and wailing, George grabbed Little Thomas’ feet and pulled, his once-polished dress shoes becoming caked in mud and dust as he strained with all his might. The younger boy’s legs flailed and kicked in retaliation, gurgling angrily and hugging the cypress’ trunk as if it were the most important thing in the world. One of these kicks landed its mark, catching George in the face and shattering one of his lenses, Judith still shrieking and holding her hands over her ears in complete hysterics.
Little Thomas’ happy burbles grew more frequent as he grew closer and closer to the flower, hands gripping the tongue-petals reverently as he caressed the angry bone protrusions. They lapped at his little fingers, slathering them in a thick saliva as the tendrils forced his head into the gnashing tube of hungry teeth, leaking thick ropes of crimson down the ashen wood as Little Thomas’ skull was quickly crushed, beaming smile still plastered on his face as the flower began taking bites from him.
Judith hyperventilated, curled into a fetal position while George wailed, holding his bloodied nose. The sounds of slurping and breaking bone gradually faded, the two remaining children sitting in silence for several long minutes even after the noises had stopped. It had been Judith who looked up first, streaks of tears running down her face, cheeks cherry red and her breathing little more than wheezing at this point.
The flower was gone, as was the tree it had been attached to. Even the stains were gone. It had almost been as if it never happened.
They had never run so fast in their lives.
Written by SkullMunch