Nor do men only lust for the flesh of strange fruit!
|"I dread the coming of spring," murmured William Cavendish. His forehead was chalky and filmed with perspiration, but his cheeks were flushed. He downed his Scotch and fumbled another drink into his glass.
Father Thomas Runcible beamed at his host. His face too was round and ruddy, but it was a color that came naturally to him. He was still nursing his first glass of port.
"I quite understand," he said. "With a garden such as yours—"
"What d'you know of my garden?" the other asked sharply.
"Why, nothing," the priest admitted. "Save what you showed me this afternoon. And what I know by report."
"Report?" The squire barked the word.
"I mean by reputation," Father Runcible gently assured him. "And what I've read in the Weekly Vole."
Cavendish turned and glared through the paneled wall of his library, on the other side of which—accessible by the French doors—spread one of the finest estates in Nottinghamshire. A lawn like green felt rolled gently to the shores of the silvery ornamental lake; gated behind a picturesquely crumbling wall, elms and oaks lofted their arms skyward in a small wood of shabby, genteel antiquity. But the culmination of tree, grass, water and manor could only be the black-earthed garden that encompassed the house in a wide crescent, in which bright flowers bent and nodded like jeweled bells, or peeped and twinkled out of shrubs and bushes like a spray of stars. Nor was Somerwood Hall deficient in the exotic. A bright greenhouse, which smiled over the southern lawns, warmed cuttings carried back from Brazil, Kenya, and the Malay.
"But as I was saying," the priest continued, "I can well understand why one with such a garden might dread the labor and responsibilities that attend the coming of spring. Why, though I myself have only have a few small flowerbeds to tend, I—! Oh! the weeding and watering, the trimming! The mucking out of the beds and the laying in of new soils. By the middle of May, I confess, the sight of the watering can and wheelbarrow—"
"I showed you the orchids," Cavendish interrupted.
"Er, the Cryptostylis subulata, yes," the priest agreed.
The squire threw him a baleful glance. "Not a fit flower to decorate the transept, eh?" When the priest shrugged, he added, "They look like a—"
Father Runcible grimaced at the ugly word. Indeed, with their blood-colored petals curled into a bulbous pipe, the orchids did, to an uncomfortable degree, resemble the unsheathed male organ.
"It was a mistake bringing such here," Cavendish murmured. "The root of the troubles. Root," he repeated with a sardonic twist of his lips.
The priest made no reply. But a pained and quizzical smile appeared on his face as his host began to meander.
"The root," he muttered. "The rising sap. That's what I dread. That's what spring means, you know. The engorged stem. The ripening bud. The welcoming petal, unfurled like a gasping tongue. The fleshy pistils and the groping stamen." He swayed on his feet. "The loamy earth, pulsing and bulging with vegetative force. Yes, force. Force!" He looked into his glass. "The spring time," he said. "The spring time, the pretty ring time, ha! But Pan himself with sharp hooves tears black gashes in the green earth as, eyes rolling in terror, he flees before ... them!"
"Them?" Father Runcible politely inquired.
The squire tried to focus on his guest. "I brought 'em back, you see."
"The orchids? Yes, the orchids!" Cavendish exclaimed. "But I brought them back too! With the orchids!"
"What? A parasite?" the priest hazarded.
"It's because they were strange!" The squire halted about the library. "Exotic. Fascinating! As with men, so with them! They pant for the flowers of Ceylon! The buds of Jakarta! To sup and suck on such would any man, would any—!" He broke off, and shuddered all over.
"Of course, I tried putting them down again, Lord knows I tried!" he went on, morosely. "Foolish of me, foolish." He shook his head. "I threw the orchids out. But they went wild! Uprooted the hedges, tore up the lawns, clawed at the walls, even broke through the windows! They still come up to the house, they didn't use to do that. But they've not forgotten nor forgiven, though I placated them with new orchids to replace the old." He put a hand to his forehead. "Still they put their faces to the windows, still they scrabble with horny fingers at the doors. I would fly to London when winter fails, for fear of them. But I fear more what they would do to me when I returned!"
"Have you thought to call in the police?" Father Runcible carefully asked.
"The police?" Cavendish rounded on him with a shriek, and seized him by the collar. "And what could they do about such as that!" He pointed at the French door.
The priest glanced over, then did a double take.
Was that a face at one of the panes? Or was it a shadow, a trick of the light? It did look very like a face of evil mien—flat and v-shaped, with a broad brow tapering to a pointed chin. The eyes were narrow, uneven gashes, and the lipless mouth a dark, crooked line. There was no nose.
Most alarmingly, it peered in through an uppermost pane, nearly eight feet above the ground.
Father Runcible blinked, and the illusion—if such it was—vanished.
"I don't understand," he stammered. "Who are ... they?"
"Haven't you been listening to me?" the squire roared. "Who do you think they are? Sprites! Wood elves! Goblins! Call them what you like, they are the ancient spirits of the trees and woods!"
"And I woke them with it, and still they lust for it, as men do!
"They lust for strange fruit!"
Winner of The Writer's Cramp: 2-27-21
Prompt: Write about someone who is dreading the approach of spring.