It looked like a flower, but its petals felt like skin and were warm to the touch. Kevin Peterson stood in the corner of his father’s bedroom and, with his thumb and index finger, gently stroked the downy green stalk. The flower had a strange shape that he couldn’t quite identify, something like a pair of lips oriented vertically, slightly parted, as if breathing, or ready to speak. The lips were pink and pouty, the outer petals more delicate and pale.
Congratulations on your purchase of TulipsDeluxe™ Model VI (v3N031206)! This genetically enhanced botanical creation is guaranteed to provide beauty and pleasure. Pheromones and other personal aspects of your loved one are represented in this unique creation by means of state-of-the-art gene-splicing techniques. Proper feeding and care of your TD-6 must be scrupulously maintained. Please refer to the next section.
Wayne Peterson, CEO of QNET Enterprises, enters his bedroom and locks the door behind him. He pours a glass of scotch and downs it in a single swallow, but his hands still tremble slightly, his forehead is damp, and beads of perspiration have gathered on his upper lip. He stands by his flower, bending to admire the slender neck, the beauty of the pistil with its voluptuous, fleshy stigma. The tank is itself a work of art, sturdy plex with a polished maple veneer, filled with porous urethane beads and a constantly circulating nutrient flow. Wayne vacillates for a moment—should he stand, or sit on the edge of the bed? He chooses to stand. As he unbuckles his belt, the flower begins to stir, the slightly parted lips widening now, thickening as if engorged. Wayne drops his trousers and shorts. The flower rises and undulates like a cobra and then strikes home, suddenly large enough to accommodate all of him, his shaft buried as the plant begins to ripple in a steady peristaltic motion.
EXTREMELY IMPORTANT! It is imperative that all instructions are followed without deviation!
The next day, after school, Kevin returned to his father’s bedroom to look at the plant. It drew him to it in a way he couldn’t understand, as though it were calling him, and he had been thinking about it since he woke that morning. He had seen this kind of flower before; his friend Eric’s father had one in his office at their home. Kevin and Eric had wondered what it was, since Eric’s dad didn’t care much about plants. That flower didn’t have any effect on Kevin at all. Eric’s mother had also died—though not in an accident like Kevin’s mom—and the flower showed up about two months later. It was Eric who noticed the interesting serrated shape of the leaves and decided that they might be worth smoking. The boys were thirteen now and had been blasting reefer for almost a year.
Kevin pinched a single leaf and stuffed it into the little pipe he kept stashed in a flashlight that he had rigged to work on one battery. He sat down in his dad’s chair and fired up the pipe. He sucked in as the leaf ignited. The smoke was smooth and tasted sweet and familiar. He swayed slightly to the left, then overcorrected to the right until he was leaning at an uncomfortable angle in the chair, staring at the flower. He thought of sitting back up, or leaning on the armrest, but he couldn’t connect to the action. It wasn’t important now, anyway, because he couldn’t see. A blackness enveloped him, deeper than blindness could ever be, his head roaring with sounds he couldn’t decipher, and his penis felt like it was ready to burst through his pants; it was taking over all other sensation, it was all there was and all that mattered. Now the blackness had brilliant points of violet, like dark stars in an alien universe, and the points began to arrange themselves into a form. Kevin recognized the contour of the flower, and he understood its shape. He tried to bring his hand to his zipper, but couldn’t bring the command forth with sufficient strength, and now the roaring in his ears began to differentiate into a moaning sound—his own voice, he realized, though he was powerless to stop it—and a woman speaking. First he could only make out his name, “Kevin . . .” and then, “No, Kevin, Oh, no, no . . .” It was his mother’s voice, and he saw her now, sitting on the polished wood edge of the planter.
“Sit up, for God’s sake.”
“Fine, don’t then.” She was naked, her breasts hanging powerfully, her lips bigger than he remembered, and her hair cut short like when he was little. “Do you want to help me?”
No, he didn’t want to help her, she was dead, killed in a car wreck that his father had miraculously walked away from, and Kevin had finally accepted that she was gone, but he couldn’t shake his head, and he couldn’t deny his mother, and his voice said, “Sure, how?” And she told him. When she was through, the blackness returned, and Kevin felt fingers deftly unbuttoning his pants, pulling down the zipper, reaching through his shorts; he felt an exquisite softness and warmth, his back arched as he thrust forward and exploded in a wet streaming rush, and then he collapsed into the comfort of his father’s leather chair.
WARNING! Feed only with AminoTD™ nutrient solution. Do not place tank near open aquarium or terrarium. Do not leave solid foods within vicinity of your TD-6. This finely tuned creation is extremely sensitive to non-prescribed organics. Your warranty will be void if feeding instructions are violated.
Kevin spent the next weeks following his mother’s instructions. Every day when he got home from school he fed the plant. When the nutrient solution was gone, he raided the refrigerator. The flower would appear to be normal in size, but each day he had to scoop more of the plastic beads out of the tank, and each day when he placed food on the smooth wood ledge of the tank the flower would rear up and inflate alarmingly and then swoop down upon its meal. Baloney, butter, ice cream, steak: these were his instructions, instructions given to him each afternoon as he sat paralyzed in his father’s chair. And then he would be rewarded for being such a good boy. On the eighth day he was told to be a hunter.
“A hunter? What does that mean?”
“You know what it means. Get me something alive.”
“That’s gross, Mom.” Calling her Mom was even grosser, but she seemed to require it. Of course, he was not about to deny her. He spent his allowance, then stole money from his dad, and bought mice, then rats, then a fat guinea pig at the pet store. A damaged pigeon, the neighbor’s yapping terrier, and, finally, a cat with four kittens that had been offered for free (to a good home) in front of the corner market.
On Friday, at the end of a bad week at the office, Wayne Peterson storms into his bedroom, locks the door, and pulls the cork from a bottle of Remy Martin. He drinks from the bottle as he undresses, then sits on the side of his bed, facing the plant, and says,
“Honey! I’m home!”
The plant begins its slinky dance—it seems bigger than usual, but Wayne doesn’t care—and snakes up and toward Wayne, suddenly enlarging and towering over him. When it strikes, it engulfs him like a boa constrictor swallowing a rabbit; by the time he screams he is already inside and suffocating.
Kevin’s father had been missing for two days. Kevin hadn’t visited his dad’s bedroom during that time; his mom had told him his work was done after he had brought her the cat family, which was just as well because he was sure he couldn’t bring another living thing into that room. Nor were curiosity, desire, or loneliness enough to overcome the revulsion he felt. But on the third day he heard his name being called from the bedroom: “Kevin . . . Kevin dear . . .” This after a morning of thumping and clattering noises emanating from beyond the closed door, which now opened even before Kevin touched the knob.
Inside, standing at the end of the bed, was his mother, far from the nutrient tank. She was wearing his father’s striped terry cloth bathrobe, and though her hands looked right coming out of the sleeves, when Kevin looked down to where feet should be all he saw were two undifferentiated root-like masses.
“I’m leaving now.” She pointed back to the tank. “I left you a little sister.”
Kevin looked at the tank. The plastic beads had been replaced, and there, small and frail, was a new green shoot and a flower.
He stared hungrily at the serrated leaves on his sister’s slender stalk.