“Is that a Wyndham flower?” Milton stared with some concern at the strange, semi-translucent stalk, ghastly pale and no bigger around than his thumb. It clung precariously to the handle of an old shovel resting in the corner of the greenhouse. “You do know those are illegal?”
“What I know,” answered Bernadette with a patient smile, “is that Wyndham flowers are as misunderstood as they are exquisite.” She gently tugged at his shirt sleeve to pull him away, easing past with a plastic spray bottle. She gave the base of the stalk two quick spritzes, then moved back to her orchids.
“They come from outer space.” Milton watched the Wyndham flower tremble excitedly, and gave a little shiver himself. “They could be dangerous.”
“You may recall, all sorts of government funds went into proving that back when the seeds first fell, but what did they find?”
“Nothing they could share with the public.” Milton leaned forward to peer dubiously at the tip of the flower, ostensibly what could be considered its blossom, a teardrop shaped bulge, containing at its center a softly glowing cluster of knotted veins. “Who knows what nefarious inner workings they discovered but were forced to keep secret to avoid mass panic.”
“That kind of xenophobic paranoia is exactly the problem with humanity. How many of the dear little things were ripped out and burned for no reason better than mankind’s senseless fear?”
“How many? Not enough, apparently.” Milton gave a quick blast of air through his nostrils. “Where did you happen across one?”
“I happened across three. Up in the cut above the old cabin. Ages ago. I thought transplanting them would be a simple affair, but only the one took. Wyndham flowers are similar to lichens. They do rather poorly in soil, but unfortunately seem unable to leech minerals directly out of sterner materials like stone. I don’t know what possessed me to try the shovel. Do you remember when Daddy used to complain about the porcupines chewing on the handles of his old tools? All those years soaking in salt from sweaty hands. Perhaps that’s what made me think of it. In any case, Wyndham flowers are such delicate and gentle beings, it’s a wonder any of them survived at all. Most of the precious few who fell in suitable spots were butchered by terrified cretins and dolts, while the rest were choked out by kudzu and multiflora rose.”
“Ah, see. There you are. Invasives! Kudzu and the roses, I mean. Prime examples of how introducing foreign, or should I say alien, organisms into a new environment hardly ever works out for the natives, even in the best of circumstances. Your Wyndham flower could very well be as catastrophic as cane toads, or woolly adelgids.”
“Oh, Milton.” Bernadette drifted over to one of her bonsais and slipped a dainty pair of shears from her pink apron. Her eyes traced lovingly over the little tree’s twists and gnarls. “You’ve become so excitable in your old age. Foreign? Yes. Alien? Wonderfully so. Invasive? Hardly! An organism must spread past the point of introduction and become abundant to be considered invasive.” She gave a satisfied nod, and the shears disappeared, unused, back into her apron.
“And how can we be certain that isn’t what the damn thing is going to do? Yes, it may seem benign now. I’m sure the European starling appeared innocent enough, back when the American Acclimatization Society intentionally released them into Central Park right before the turn of the century.”
“Wyndham flowers have been on this planet for almost thirty years, and there are indications I may have the last surviving specimen. If they intend to take over the world, the poor darlings are failing rather miserably.”
“They’ve been on this planet exactly twenty-three years. I was nineteen when the discovery was made. I remember vividly watching the meteor shower with Amelia Bernhagen in her father’s orchard.”
“Amelia Bernhagen?” Bernadette lifted her head and gazed for a moment at the milky glass of the greenhouse roof. “The redhead with the ample forehead? Her, I would consider invasive.”
“Bernadette, please.” Milton sighed. “You must concede that you have no real understanding of a Wyndham flower’s life cycle. Isn’t it at least feasible your extra terrestrial friend has been slowly maturing all this time, and could at any moment reach a point where it, say, releases millions of spores?”
“Feasible? As feasible as it sprouting legs and becoming a flesh-eating monster. In which case I may regret having fed it a drop of my blood every morning.”
“You’ve done what?” Milton stiffened.
“Or, what if it’s not a plant at all? What if it’s a sort of biomechanical alien probe, sent to gather information about us? What if it’s currently transmitting everything we say to an invasion fleet on its way from Alpha Centauri?”
“Now you’re being ridiculous.”
“What if this whole time it’s been projecting an intense stream of radiation into my brain, deliberately reshaping my neural pathways, overwriting my individual consciousness with its own? What if the only reason I’ve asked you out here to the greenhouse was so that it could begin the very same process on you?”
Milton blinked and licked his lips.
“My dear brother.” Bernadette stripped off her work gloves and slapped them against the table to knock the dirt from them. “See how easy it is for a little fear to spread? See how quick a mere seed can take root, feeding off a few bits of possibility, growing and propagating through your mind until it chokes out the truth?”
Milton wasn’t listening. The Wyndham flower had begun to quiver again. He stared intently at it, anxious for any sign of malevolence.
Moriah Geer-Hardwick has taught experiential outdoor education in Western North Carolina for seventeen years, working with school groups and families. He exceedingly dislikes multiflora roses.