Poppies and Daffodils (draft)
Howard clutched the newspaper between his wrinkled fingers, squinting at a small section of the opinion page.
Plantoids: The Dark Side of The Phenomenon
April 14th, 2022. Exactly one year ago today. The tiny town of Trovigo just off the coast of Italy wakes up to an incredible sight. Beside the forgotten church in the centre of town, the local graveyard has sprouted an enormous mass of native fauna, the official measurements coming in at four stories tall and 50 metres wide. Those who were first to witness the growth wasted no time in calling it a gift from God, even before the international presses rolled in and the entire town was sealed off for government investigation.
The coach driver swerved over a particularly troublesome pothole, the impact jostling the paper from Harold’s grasp. It landed on the seat next to him with a small poof of dust, adding to the already stale air and making him feel like he needed to sneeze. The driver flashed an apologetic look, Harold meeting it with a strained smile before scooping the paper back into his hands.
Within days, the world’s best and brightest scientists were pouring in. They all had their minds on the same conundrum: how could such a large growth of healthy, thriving plant life spring up seemingly overnight? Early analysis of the soil surrounding the growth was inconclusive; it seemed to hold no special qualities compared to samples of nearby, unaffected soil. But of course, the answer didn’t take too long to emerge, yet rather than bring a logical explanation, it only served to raise more confusion.
He flicked his thumb across his tongue and turned the page. He knew they had to be close; the road was getting more and more uneven, the engine wheezing with each turn and the sweat on the brow of the driver growing ever more apparent. Silently, he turned and scanned his eyes over the empty seats. The end of the line had been quite some time ago.
The roots of the mass weren’t coming from the soil.’ The article continued. ‘They were coming from the coffins. The roots were infused with the very bones of the graveyard’s skeletons.
“You readin’ the papers?”
The driver spoke with a slight country drawl, his words tinged with nervous energy.
“My own article. Got it published a few days ago. Though I’d appreciate it if you kept your focus on the road.”
Howard shot a stern glare into the rear-view mirror, smoothing the paper out across his lap.
“Right, right. Sorry. Gotta focus.”
It took less than a week for similar instances of all different sizes to start popping up all over the world. Age and condition mattered not, as the scientists quickly discovered, for as long as they were real bones from a real, dead human, they were sprouting fauna. It seemed like ordinary life was put on standstill as people raced to discover these Plantoids, as they were promptly named. Even now, it remains a prominent topic of interest.
So, a year since that fateful day in Italy, what do we know?
Well, no official explanation has been released. As far as the average person knows, the residents of Trovigo were spot on with their first assumption. Clean-up crews have been mobilised across the globe to take care of the most inconvenient growths, while newly founded organisations work for the preservation of others. There’s even been a nature-based religious movement swept up from the chaos. With numbers growing by the day, experts are estimating there may still be millions of Plantoids left to discover, and millions more lurking deep underground. Slowly but surely, people are adjusting to the sight of a towering stack of flowers in their neighbourhood.
But deep down, there’s a few unsettling concepts that’ve been tugging at the back of our minds this entire time. Whatever the nature of this event may be, the spectacle of it all seems to have distracted us from the real, disturbing questions we need to ask ourselves. Why are Plantoids popping up in locations never before inhabited by humans? Why are some becoming seemingly privatised, hushed away from public view? Why have some been found in the Antarctic, as certain rumours claim?
It seems whatever the cause of these phenomena, the powers that be are reluctant to answer these questions. I implore you, readers, next time you see a Plantoid, stop and think about who could be underneath and how they met such a fate.
The coach came to a stop. Howard tossed the paper aside and eased himself into a standing position with the help of his cane. His ceramic hip clicking quietly with each step, he walked to the driver’s booth, where a twitchy, red-headed teen was awaiting his payment.
“I can’t take you back, remember?” he spoke, his fingers tapping on the steering wheel. There was an awkward air to the boy’s mannerisms, like he was never quite able to keep still. “It was risky enough getting you out here in the first place and I’m not waiting around for you to do whatever you wanna do.”
“I know,” Howard said, taking a wad of cash from his back pocket. “That was what we agreed on.”
The boy took the cash into his pocket, glancing around the grubby windows for any sign of trouble. The vast expanse of nature around them remained completely empty, save for a few birds and foxes. There wasn’t another soul in sight.
“Thanks for keeping your side of the deal…I really need this money. Hey, y-you used to live here, right? Can you tell me why they had to close this place down, before you go? Just outta curiosity. There’ve been all sorts of rumours flying about for decades now, and I don’t know what to believe.”
“Accident at a nearby radon mine.” Howard explained, “Too much radiation; the long-term exposure would’ve been fatal. Everyone had to go.”
“But not everyone went, right?”
“I paid you to drive, not to ask questions.”
“…Sorry.” The boy spoke, sinking a little in his chair. He puffed a small sigh. “I, uh…I gotta get back home. Town I picked you up from is a good few miles away, and I’m running low on gas, so I don’t have much to waste. See ya…”
Howard turned and stepped out onto the dusty soil, the coach doors closing behind him. With a final nod, the driver revved the engine back to life and drove off back down the country road.
He sighed and gazed out across the town before him. After all these years, it felt good to be back.
‘Don’t go talking to Creepy Fred’ was a well-known saying among the locals of St. Anthony. It was one of the first things Howard noticed towards the beginning of his visit to the town, and it proved to be a sentiment that was difficult to forget.
Fred Hazelton was St. Anthony’s blemish, its imperfection. His presence was known universally amongst the town’s occupants, but most seemed reluctant to even acknowledge it. It was as if a silent, mutual agreement had been made to avoid the man at all costs, to pretend he didn’t exist. And for all Howard knew, he might as well not have, for he apparently spent almost all his time cooped up in a dilapidated mansion, next to the local cemetery on the outskirts of town.
Howard pondered this thought as he plunged a mouthful of juicy chicken past his lips. The dinner invitation he had received from a local mother and her husband had been tempting enough to accept.
“We hope you’re enjoying the town so far.” the mother spoke, smiling warmly as she tucked into a spoonful of rice.
“Absolutely,” said Howard, “It’s so much nicer here than in the city. All that pollution and concrete numbness can get to you sometimes. Small, cosy places like St. Anthony fit me much better.”
The husband nodded in agreement. “Are you planning on staying much longer?”
“Only a few more days at most. I’m waiting on a call from this writing agency; they’re considering my application. I’ll be gone the day I hear back from them.”
“Well, we wish you the best of luck.”
The thought of Fred remained embedded in Howard’s mind as he conversed about such mundane matters. Fred Hazelton. Strange how it was, with some hesitant to so much as mention the man’s name, and him still being the subject of countless rumours.
“What’s up with that reclusive guy…Fred, I think his name was?” he spoke, unable to keep the thought from occupying a space on his tongue.
Instantly, the family’s demeanours turned colder, as if simply speaking the man’s name had invited some dark shadow upon the house. Neither the woman nor her husband wished to speak first, yet the latter took it upon himself to answer the question.
“Don’t tell anyone we told you this, but Fred…Fred’s a bit of an odd case,” he whispered, leaning in towards the table. “There’s reports of him in the cemetery almost every night. Out he shambles, at some ungodly hour, creeping through the tall grass and the leafless trees. It’s…a little strange, to say the least…”
“Reports?” Howard queried. “Why, what’s he doing out so late at night?”
“His mama’s buried there,” the wife spoke. “In the cemetery. She lived in the mansion right up until she passed away last year. Nice woman. Only slightly less of a shut-in than Fred, but still, she used to bake little snowy cupcakes for us all at Christmas. Fred moved in a couple days after her funeral. Apparently, she left him everything in the will: the house, her money, her possessions, you name it. She came from a very wealthy family.”
She let out a slight sigh, allowing herself to drift away for a moment. “It’s a shame Fred never put any of that money into the mansion’s upkeep. It used to be a very pretty building.”
“Look, between you and us, we think he’s a weirdo.” the husband spoke, in a restrained tone. “He stays in that dusty old hole all day and only comes out in the dead of night, like a vampire. Looks like a vampire too. He’s probably still living off whatever supplies that old hag stashed underground before she wasted away.”
“Do you think he cares about what everyone says about him? About his reputation, I mean.”
“Hah!” the husband replied, smirking slightly. His knife scraped against the plate as he tore off another piece of meat from the bone. “Of course not. I can’t remember the last time he spoke to any one of us.”
“Mikey at school says he spoke to mister Hazelton once.” the couple’s kid spoke up at last, playing with the greens on his plate. “When he saw him sitting by the upstairs window. Mikey says he asked mister Hazelton if he was a ghost.”
“Did he say anything back?” the mother inquired.
“Nah. He just looked at him all funny and went back inside the house.”
“Creep.” the husband muttered under his breath.
Fred’s antics meant the cemetery was seldom visited by the locals, and yet, when Howard paid it a visit, it seemed well-kept. The vegetation had been cleared, the tombstones were clean, and a fresh pile of flowers was sitting on Mrs Hazelton’s grave, not in a bouquet, or vase, or any sort of container, just scattered lightly across the soil. A mess of poppies and a scattering of daffodils.
Howard was intrigued. The fact that Fred’s behaviour could very well have been of a grieving man mourning the death of his much-loved mother and nothing more never seemed to occur to anybody. Either they didn’t know, or they didn’t care, and it felt unfair to Howard that no-one was even attempting to reach out to the man, to establish any sort of connection.
Needless to say, it came as a huge shock when he received a dinner invitation from Fred early one morning, written in his very own handwriting.
‘Dear newcomer,’ it read, in a tall, slanted font, with exaggerated curves like from that of a person attempting to write formally but not used to such a way of shaping their letters.
I have noted your arrival in the town and would like to properly introduce myself. I understand you may have heard certain things about me from the other residents here, and as unflattering as they may be, I can assure you a good portion of these claims are entirely untrue. I would deem it most satisfactory if you were to come to dinner tonight at my establishment at 6:00pm, where I am sure we can have a polite chat about said rumours in a sensible manner.
Howard was flabbergasted, to say the least. A few horrible thoughts came upon him of being stalked and spied upon, but he soon reminded himself not to jump to conclusions. He was living relatively close to Fred; it was perfectly reasonable for him to have simply observed his visitation of the town just like anyone else. He couldn’t form a definitive judgment of the man until he met him in person, and this was the perfect opportunity to do so.
It seemed likely the locals would do nothing but discourage him if he dared tell them about the invitation, so he kept the information to himself. The hours passed by in no time at all, and quickly, he found the sun dipping below the edge of the horizon. Slipping into some formal attire, he readied himself for the occasion, brushing his teeth and taking one last good look into the mirror before he ventured outside.
He’d never been up close to the house before, it now revealing itself to be in an even greater state of disrepair then he’d initially observed. It was somewhat isolated from the rest of the town, obscured on all sides but its front by a cluster of thick willow trees. The remnants of what had once been a well-kept building had all but faded away. The windows were cracked and foggy, a film of dirt and grime covered the outer layer of glass, and a thick coating of ivy was creeping its way up the brickwork. A light scattering of collapsed roof tiles were displayed across the top of the building, like little specks of darkness sucking up the moonlight. The inside lights were on, and the great, rusted knocker on the front door felt cold and rough in Howard’s hand as he dropped it against the wood.
Slow, irregular footsteps came down the hallway. Howard swallowed and put on a warm smile, forcing his hands away from retreating inside his trouser pockets. The door caught on the chain lock as it opened, and he heard soft breathing coming from inside as the footsteps came to an end.
“This is the oldest building in St. Anthony, you know.”
Fred’s head had slipped into the gap so unnoticeably, he hadn’t seen him for a good few seconds. His face was shrouded by the night; eyes wide like a cat’s as he stared from the crevice. His voice was delicate and precise as he spoke, with a hint of an English accent. It cut through the cricket’s chirps like a knife as Howard stood there nervously, unsure of how to respond.
“It predates the town itself. It was built by my great-great grandfather and the rest of St. Anthony was formed outward from it.”
The wind whistled along the street as a few more awkward seconds passed by. Howard took a step forward, ready to say something but finding the words caught on his tongue.
“So, I do hope you will excuse its current condition. It is not that I do not care about the wellbeing of this house, or its history…I am not a very handy man myself, and I would have hired someone to come work on it for me, but I have been busy as of late and I am not exactly a very social person, either…if you could not tell already.”
“May I come in?” Howard finally forced out.
“…Yes. Please, make yourself at home.”
The chain came off the latch with a metallic click. He waited for Fred to pull the door open the rest of the way, but instead heard his footsteps leading back into the house. Grasping the knob, he pushed it fully open and was mildly startled by its sudden slamming behind his back as he entered the mansion.
The first thing he noticed was the air. It held the instantly recognisable qualities of a fresh mist of Febreze, almost overpoweringly so. He swallowed and wrinkled his nose, hoping that wherever Fred has disappeared to, he hadn’t noticed his recoiling.
“I am afraid you must forgive me for the… aroma.” Howard heard his voice echo from one of the next rooms over. “A nasty settlement of rats have recently invaded the mansion and although I was capable of driving them off, their pungent odour remained. Better a breath of mild chemicals then a breath of rat droppings, mm?”
Fred’s voice had an edge of humour, even as Howard cringed at the thought. He sniffed a little harder, and indeed, could detect some other scent overshadowed by the smell of what he presumed to be some exotic flower.
“The food is all set out and ready to eat. Please, come and join me in the dining room.”
The image of Fred hiding around the corner brandishing a meat cleaver popped into Howard’s head, as well as one of him leaning over his plate with a devilish grin, sprinkling cyanide on his food. Again, he was forced to reassure himself: it was going to be a perfectly normal night. They would eat, share a conversation, and he would leave. Nothing more, nothing less.
Warily, he started walking down the hallway.
The rug puffed dust around his ankles with every step. Despite its extravagant, if significantly faded exterior, the internal structure of the house seemed quite simple. There was the central hallway, which lead from the front door to the base of the stairs, and four doors along the way, two on each side. Three were shut, and (presumably) locked, and the one on the further, right-hand side was slightly ajar, casting a crack of light against the opposite wall. Howard let his eyes wander from corner to corner of the hallway, observing the chipped, yellowed surfaces of the walls and ceiling. It reminded him faintly of what a hoarder’s house looks like when they remove all the clutter.
With an outstretched arm, he pushed open the far-right door.
Fred stood upright at the side of a polished wooden table, hands behind his back and a sort-of half smile spread across his face. A singular lightbulb hung from the ceiling, illuminating the room and giving Howard his first proper look at the man he had heard so much about.
He looked around somewhere in his mid-30s, a slither of blonde hair sitting atop his head, neatly combed above his ears. His face was narrow and elongated, and his eyes were full of caffeine, the dark bags beneath them being the most noticeable symptom of his nocturnal habits. A black bowtie was wrapped somewhat shoddily around his collar, and the rest of his outfit gave off the impression of an early-1900s gentleman, with a pinstripe jacket and a white dress shirt, along with jet-black suit pants. The rest of the room reflected this formal, old-fashioned sense of style. A tall, looming grandfather clock stood near the head of the table, with a blackened fireplace sat beside it. A cupboard of antique dining-ware was also present, displaying ornate plates and gleaming cutlery. Howard took another deep breath. Still, the smell of Febreze lingered.
“Please, take a seat.”
Howard stepped to the table and dragged a cushioned chair from out underneath it, making himself comfortable. The floorboards were ragged and ever-so-slightly uneven, creaking as he shifted and leaned in towards his plate.
“Our dish tonight comes from Mother’s old rationing supplies. They are much more flavourful than the processed slop they sell at the local market, I assure you. I trust you will find them quite enjoyable. I certainly do.”
Again, that tiny hint of a smile pierced through Fred’s expression. He sat and cleared his throat, scratching the bridge of his nose before taking a napkin from his pocket and laying it on his lap.
Howard looked down at his food. Two veiny sausages nestled themselves beside a heap of mashed potatoes, drizzled with a brown, gravy-like substance. A small pile of various vegetables was scattered off to the side, soft and wet, dispersing at the touch of his fork.
“Have you been enjoying the town?”
Fred was already tucking in, slicing open the sausage meat and dragging it through a thin river of gravy before putting it to his lips. It suddenly occurred to Howard he had barely said a word to the man, and he fumbled internally, trying to pluck a sentence out of the whirlwind of thoughts blowing through his brain.
“Yeah, it’s…very quaint. I could see myself coming back here one day, when I’m old and retired.”
Fred stopped eating for a moment and looked at him with a kind of knowing air.
“You like traveling, yes?”
Howard raised an eyebrow, twirling a loose sausage strand around his fork.
“How’d you know?” he said, popping the strand into his mouth. He jostled it back and forth with his tongue, trying to detect any unusual flavours, even as he kicked himself for being so presumptuous.
“People like you come and go occasionally. By now, I am used to seeing them.”
“I see,” Howard replied, swallowing his mouthful. It was spit-suckingly dry, but he pretended otherwise. “Do you always invite them over for dinner?”
“You’re the first person to respond to my letters.” he said, almost sadly.
“Oh. Well…I…um…” Howard trailed off, mumbling something about how sorry he was to hear about that.
There was silence for a while. He tried his fill at the mashed potatoes, unable to keep himself from stabbing at them until they were distributed across his plate like a damp layer of toilet paper.
“Allow me to cut to the chase, if you please.” Fred suddenly spoke, setting down his knife and fork and bridging his hands together. Howard straightened up, finishing a particularly chewy string bean.
“I understand the other residents of this town may have been propagating some…harmful information about me. Please, if you will, disclose some of the things they may have said. Do not hold back, be as honest as possible.”
Fred stared, hands clasped together, body stiff and expectant, waiting for an answer. Howard rubbed his temple as he wondered how best to tell him that the entire town wanted him gone. He thought it to be strange he was even asking him such a question; surely, he would have picked up on the locals’ attitudes by now?
“Uh…a lot of people seem a little…disturbed about your nightly walks through the graveyard."
“Yes, I have…gotten that impression, though I am not sure why. I find myself to be the only person responsible for its upkeep. Did you see the graves this morning? The cleanliness of those headstones? Not to toot my own horn, but I’d say they were spotless. The graves, they looked like they were freshly dug, didn’t they? Who do you think’s responsible for that?”
Howard peered past Fred and noticed the soil-coated shovel in the back corner of the room. A small pile of mud and grass blades sat beneath it.
“Anything else? Anything a little more specific?” Fred continued. “Anything…I hate to use the word, but…incriminating?”
“No, no, nothing like that.” Howard continued, waving his hand as if to dispel the notion. “The worst of it is…well, someone said you were like a vampire, what with the lack of…appearance…during the day.”
“Good, good.” Fred nodded, taking a sip of water from his glass. His shoulders relaxed, and Howard could see a weight had lifted from them. “Nothing out of the ordinary, then…”
He picked up his knife and fork and resumed eating, as did Howard. Once again, he felt the unnatural silence creep in.
“I heard this used to be your mother’s place, a-at some point.” he said, feeling he should at least attempt to keep the conversation going.
“She always said she wanted a plot of land for herself.” Fred spoke, in a jarringly monotone voice. “Somewhere private and empty.”
Fred stared at his plate. Howard froze, overcome by the terrifying feeling he’d said something very wrong.
“For where she wanted to be buried. She kept telling me when she was sick. A nice open field, just for her, where she could watch the bees dance across the flowers in peace. Across the poppies and the daffodils. Those were her favourites. She told me they reminded her of her childhood.”
He was deathly still. Howard chewed on his bottom lip, wringing his hands.
“I never made the arrangements. She did not tell anyone other than me. Did not put it in her will. But it meant a lot to her. It really did.”
With a sniff, he flicked his eyes up and said:
“Where are you going to be buried?”
“Uh…I’ve never really thought about it too much. I might be cremated… maybe. I couldn’t really say.”
“To each their own, I suppose. Mother did not want to be cremated. She always hated fire. Fire is what took Father away.”
He said it with a such a nonchalance it took Howard a moment to process what he truly meant.
“Oh, that’s…I’m so-
“Mother used to say that was where Father was now. Where the fire is. I was never too sure myself. Father was a mean man, but he didn’t like the fire either.”
Howard’s heart sunk as he noticed the family picture on the wall. It hung crookedly, the glass layered with dust and the frame chipped and stained. From the dim lighting, he could make out two smiling faces and one far less cheerful-looking man, arms crossed firmly at his chest as he glared into the camera.
“Well, what a lovely evening this has been.”
Fred scooped up his last forkful of mashed potatoes and swallowed it, his plate now empty. Howard reached for his knife and fork, realising he still had a good few bites to go before he was finished.
“No, no, please.” Fred spoke, standing up and sweeping the plate into his hands. “If you are full, you are full. I will not force you to eat more than you wish.”
He turned on his heel and walked through the kitchen door before Howard could say a word. Brushing a couple of gravy droplets off his trousers, he stood up, pushing the chair back under the table.
“I don’t think I ever caught your name.” Fred said as he entered the room again, wiping his hands with a cloth.
“It’s, uh, Howard.”
“It was nice meeting you, Howard.”
Howard started for the door, expecting Fred to follow behind, only for him to vanish back into the kitchen from the corner of his eye. He halted, taking one last moment to fully absorb the room, knowing it would most likely be the last time he would ever see it.
He opened the door back into the hallway and made his way back to the front door. As he reached for the knob, he heard the pitter-patter of fast footsteps creaking through the dining room.
He turned. Fred came around the corner, red-faced. He kept walking until he was uncomfortably close, fidgeting as he stared with bulging white eyes. Howard retracted as far back as he could, his head tilted upward as it lay against the scratchy, wooden surface of the front door.
“I…I want to ask you something.” Fred’s voice left no imprint of the cool, calm, collected man Howard had conversed with moments ago. “You said you might come back here one day, did you not? When you are old and retired?”
“Y-yes. Yes, I did.”
“If someone you loved wanted something,” Fred said, not missing a beat, “Something more than anything else in the entire world, and you had the opportunity to give it to them, you would do it, would you not? You would take that opportunity?”
Panic forced Howard to blurt out the first thing he could think of.
“I would. I would, I would, I would. I would.”
He kept repeating it over and over, quieter each time, until it didn’t even sound like a sentence anymore. Fred let out a deep sigh and backed away, running his hand across his scalp.
“Then you would understand.” he whispered, grinning. He chuckled a squeaky, unnatural chuckle, sitting down as he reached the base of the stairs.
“Goodbye, Howard. I wish you well. Good things are coming your way.”
Howard peeled open the front door. Fred waved as he closed it behind him, still grinning.
His heart was pounding. He stood outside the door for what felt like hours, until he heard Fred’s footsteps recede upstairs. Cautiously, he backed away from the house, half-expecting to catch a glimpse of Fred’s ghostly figure through one of the second story windows. No such apparition could be seen, however, and Howard’s racing mind calmed as he began to walk home.
Opening his front door, he almost jumped out of his skin as the phone rang.
It was the writing agency he’d applied to. He’d got the job, and they wanted him to start as soon as possible.
They apologised for calling so late, but Howard didn’t care. He thanked the woman on the other end and hung up, promptly falling asleep on the sofa. When he awoke, he started packing his things, too excited to reflect much on the previous night’s dinner.
“Leaving so soon?” a local called out from across the street as Howard left the house. “I hope the antics of you-know-who haven’t put you off our town.”
Howard reassured the man and went on his way, informing him of his new profession. Nobody knew of his visitation to the mansion, and he was intent on keeping it that way. The last he saw of the town was the well-kept graveyard in his rear-view mirror as he pulled out onto the country roads. For a mere moment, he thought he saw Fred leaning over a gravestone, watching and waving him goodbye with that maddening grin still spread out across his face.
Howard clutched the walking stick in his hand tightly as he stood at the entrance to St. Anthony. From a simple glance down the main road, he could tell that any remainder of human life had vanished years ago. The houses were faded and empty, some half-collapsed, others with caved-in rooves and missing walls. The grass and the trees were sullen and grey, wilted and dying. The house he’d rented for his stay had brittle plywood nailed into the window frames, the front door sealed off. It was a far different atmosphere to the one he remembered from all those years ago.
As he walked through the forgotten town, he remembered the last piece of news he’d heard relating to its existence: the evacuation. All had chosen to leave apart from one stubborn individual who had barricaded themselves inside their mansion. No-one ever saw Fred leave, but he was never heard from again after the town was abandoned.
And then, as he turned the corner past the rotten willow trees to face the front of the mansion, Howard saw why.
The building itself had crumbled inward and sunk into the ground. It looked a mere few years away from being swallowed completely. Far more noticeable, of course, was the enormous mass of fauna engulfing the house, intertwined with the brickwork, erupting from the floors and walls. Several stories high, it swayed peacefully with the wind, like the chest of an animal rising and falling with each breath. A rainbow of flowers was cast across the heap of green, like a kaleidoscope, shimmering and twinkling in the sunlight. Howard took a long breath, unsure of how to feel. He glanced around, wondering if Fred was still lurking somewhere in the distance, but saw nothing.
Slowly, he carried on towards the graveyard, expecting to find a similar arrangement of fauna. Instead, he found that each and every headstone had been ripped from its place and cast aside into the street. The places in which they had previously lay had been smoothed over with grass, as if they never existed, and so the field was bare, save for the existence of a single, isolated grave right in its centre.
The grave was ancient, perhaps one of the oldest ones of them all, its original shape having diminished significantly. Howard recognised its worn texture, kneeling by its inscription and wiping away the dirt.
HERE LIES JESSICA HAZELTON
MOTHER OF ONE
AND DEARLY MISSED BY ALL WHO KNEW HER
“I once was lost,
But now, am found.
Was blind, but now,
A healthy covering of poppies and daffodils had emerged around the headstone, and a piece of paper was tucked into the soil beside them.
Howard picked up the paper and unfolded it, slipping on his reading glasses.
“I knew you’d understand.” It read, written in Fred’s handwriting.
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J. Deschene (talk) 21:36, 18 August 2021 (UTC)
Really great job with this! From the moment it started, I was pleased by how much it felt like a combination of Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. There's a lot to enjoy and it's worth reading for the atmosphere just as much as the plot or any other aspect of it. Very nice work!
If I had to offer some criticism, it's mostly cosmetic. There are places, especially early on, where you slip into present tense, so I would just go and clean those up. There are also a few places where you've used an adjective or other word that just doesn't quite achieve the effect you want, so I suggest spending more time with those as well.
By and large, however, this is a really great work. It almost feels like short fiction is the wrong medium for it, or like it doesn't belong to our present time, despite being set in the future. It reminds me of the days when "short stories" were basically mini novels. In any event, it's very well done and just a few tiny fixes away from being publishable. Really nice job!