Plugs

“As for the whole question of women fightin’, Major, I told ‘em I wouldn’t have it in my regiment. Ridiculous bringin’ up the whole question in the first place. Take this new school on Skye—” said Captain Markby to Major Daneham.
“Old school, sir. Reopened after two thousand years, sir,” put in Lieutenant Jennings.
“Thank you, Jennings. I believe I was speaking to the Major?”
“Sorry, sir.”
“No, do go on, Lieutenant. I hadn’t heard that they had finally got funding,” said Major Daneham.
“They didn’t, sir.”
“Beg pardon?”
“They didn’t, sir. They raised it themselves.”
“What, through jumble sales and coffee mornings?” joked the Major.
“Something like that, sir. Over fifteen hundred of them, in three years. They had bake sales, as well. Got rather famous for something called the Amazon Roll, actually.”
“Good heavens. Organized bunch of—ladies, what?”
“Yes, sir. I believe they gave weapons demonstrations as well.”
“Marksmanship, that sort of thing?”
“Yes, sir. And weapons of historical interest, such as the naginata, and the claymore, sir.”
“Really?” said the Major, and wished he hadn’t, because Lieutenant Jennings’ eyes had lit up, and Major Daneham could tell he was about to start jabbering about weaponry. The Captain came to the rescue accidentally.
“Yes, yes, yes, but the point is, the point is!—I’m sure you’ll call me an old-fashioned man, but whether you like the numbers or not, got to face ‘em. When some dashed starburst has done for the computers and you’re out there in the field, face-to-face with the enemy and half your armor blown off, give me a man’s superior strength any day. Women, bless ‘em, well—damme it, I’m a traditionalist. ‘Her Place is in Space’ and all that. I mean to say, when I want a colony on Mars, nobody better for it than a lady! Taught my own daughter how to shoot so she could go to the Moon and serve in the police, didn’t I? And as for rocket design—! But when some dashed chap is telling me I can’t have Australia back, give me a regiment of men, thank you very much.”
Major Daneham noticed with relief that it was five o’clock and high time for him to pick up his wife from tae kwon do. He walked the Lieutenant out with the coffee cups, saying, “Can’t change old habits all in one go, you know.”

Luc Reid

The darkness was a balm to Marley, hiding from him the life in which he could not participate, either to join in the happiness of the living or to ease their misery. The cold, the wind, the frost — all of these were the most congenial companions in his wanderings.

As the days turned darker, the mass of humanity, in whose company Marley was doomed to move, all those people who could not see him and whom he could not touch, they turned their attention to one over-illuminated spectacle after another. The light burned, it pierced him like knives. First Diwali, with its colors and lights, as strange to him as Guy Fawkes, which followed soon after with its searing bonfires, was familiar. A respite then, as winter gathered, but too soon came Hannukah, with each night more piercing than the one before, and the solstice, with more fire and light. And finally Christmas, the holiday he knew from his time alive, with its lighted trees, its parades and blazing storefronts tormenting him in the waning days of December, when he wanted nothing more than to be only another aspect of winter, another sign of year’s deathlike ebb.

The clink of commerce did less to assuage him that one might have thought — even the most mercenary of exchanges held undercurrents of fellow-feeling that stabbed at him like remorse, he, who could only watch and pass on through. There was one moment, however, toward which he looked forward expectantly.

He never knew exactly when the apparition would appear, a ghost as insubstantial as himself but with the warm glow of sunrise: Scrooge. Bearing the same gift he’d carried on this night for nearly one-hundred and fifty years: a bit of potato, still half raw.

“Happy Christmas, you old figment,” said Scrooge.

For the space of a thought, the powers that would not permit any gift that might dispel Jacob Marley’s allotted suffering did relent, just enough that the old spirit knew his existence had not been entirely without consequence — he was remembered, he had changed a life, if not his own.

“Les fleurs?” she says.  “Pour moi?”

To be honest, I can’t understand a word she’s saying.

I just hand her the flowers, give a quick nod and hold out the clipboard for her signature.  She says something else I can’t understand.  I watch her eyes, her brows furrowing, her purple painted nail tap her bottom lip.  More words.  I shrug at her.  I glance down at her naked feet, tapping on her green carpet.  I look up.  She’s holding out one hand, showing me the palm.  Wait.  I understand that.

She goes back into her apartment, but doesn’t close the door.  After a minute or so goes, I take a peek.

You would too.

Now, at this point I should point out that after two years of delivering flowers I know the smells pretty well.  I’m no expert, but I can tell a lilly from a rose.  I’m holding a bunch of daffodils at the moment.  But as I crane my head I smell flowers that aren’t just daffodils.  I smell a riot.  I smell a whole damn shop in there.  Hyacinths, hydrangeas, baby’s breath, roses, and, yeah, lilly’s too.

I push open the door a little.  I can’t help it, I know it’s not polite, but I push it open anyway.  You would too.  I swear.

And the green carpet, the one she worked at with her toes.  It’s not a carpet.  Grass stretches over the apartment.  Like a sheet draped over things.  It crawls up her walls.  And the flowers.  Everywhere flowers, blossoming blooming.  Huge things.  Like nothing I’ve ever seen in a hothouse, anywhere.  Massive, overwhelming things.  They clog the room.  Pollen hangs heavy in the air.

And at their bases…  At the roots.

There’s a smell beneath the flowers.  A stench of rot.

A rose curls out of a skull.  A vines creepers unfurl from the meat-strung rib-cage of some animal… a cat… a dog.  Broken wings.  Stray paws.  They are strewn through the foliage, their fluids, their nutrients, feeding this growth.

She  reappears, opening a door, flattening daisy’s as she does so, pushing aside a moldy cat’s skull.

“Les fleurs,” she says.  “Ce sont des varies, ne c’est pas?”

I drop my clipboard and run.  Leg it, right then and there.

You would too.

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