Peony

Birth does not always call attention to itself. It is not necessarily a thing of beauty. There is not always screaming, although sometimes that simply comes later.

The stainless-steel kitchen sink was half full of water so cold the bare sides above were fogged and condensing. The shiny silver faucet was dotted with sweat, and droplets slid one by one into the pool of water below. Two recently clipped peonies floated on their petal heavy heads, their stems sticking straight up in the air like some sort of backward bouquet. Small groups of ants gathered in the green cup where the stem joined the blossom. Some had climbed the stem to hang precariously on upside-down leaves. Floating lifeless in the water were the casualties who had not made it from their places deep within the flower before the deadly flood reached them.

One of the flowers bobbed up-and-down a couple of times before tipping onto its side. The ants scattered. There was a rustling of petals at the center of the flower, so hesitant at first it was barely noticeable. Then it picked up a frantic pace. A slender black thing, like the leg of a spider, poked out from between the pale pink petals. It was followed by others, twelve in all, attached to a body that seemed much too small for such long limbs. The whole thing was probably no larger than a quarter, but it was growing. It dipped itself into the cold water and the legs elongated as though the process had been caught on film and speeded up.

Like its limbs, its oval body was black. At one end it had a short pointed tail, not even a tenth as long as its legs. At the other end, its tiny bird’s skull of a head was raised up on a spindly neck. The creature was now heavy enough that the peony could no longer support it, so it set itself free in the water. It sank below the surface for just a few seconds before its growth permitted it to stand with its head above the water.

It looked at the peony from which it had come. Mother, it thought. The petals were thickly crowded together, concealing anything that might be hiding inside. In clumps, small white hairs with pollen yellow tips peeked out from places near the center. The petals were light, almost pastel, although some near the edges bore darker streaks of magenta. It was beautiful; perfect. No flower had ever been so right. The creature leaned closer and inhaled the same heavy perfume that was so familiar. The soothing smell had been a constant throughout its whole existence. Its beaky face nuzzled against the petals, smearing its forehead and the ridges under its solid blue eyes with the comforting scent that spoke of home and safety and love.

It leaned back and admired the blossom one more time, then with great speed darted forward and snapped its maw. It got half the flower in one bite, and the other half in the next. It ducked its head under the water to snatch the stem from the bottom of the sink where it had settled. Delicious. Its legs were now sticking out all over, draped across the counter tops and in front of the cupboards beneath the sink. It owed the other flower no allegiance, and snapped it up without admiring it first. It was terribly hungry. It was growing so rapidly.

It reached up, extending its scrawny neck, and bit off the end of the faucet with a crunch. The metal was a little hard on its teeth, still soft from being so new. The faucet was not good. It swallowed it anyway, because it had to eat something, then it looked around the counters for something better. There were dishes, but they were as bad as the faucet. Some were worse.

It slurped some of the water and wriggled its long legs. They poked out of the sink at odd angles and dangled into free air. It peered down and realized it could reach the floor without a long drop. Ravenous and delighted, it pulled itself clumsily out of the sink, and slipped to the linoleum with a soft clicking of its pointed little feet. It sniffed at the air. There were more flowers nearby. But even better, there was something larger. It was making noise in another part of the house, humming like no bird or insect the creature had heard during its infancy. The flower picker, it thought. Surely it would provide enough of a meal to stop the painful churning of its stomach.

Giddy, it scampered through the house, following the humming.

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About S.N.Arly

Author of adult and young adult speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, dark fiction)