Flash Fiction Challenge - Due July 10, 2015

This piece was written on July 4, 2015 for the Six Random Titles flash fiction challenge on the terribleminds blog. We were given a link that gave the clicker 6 random titles, of which they had to choose one to write a piece of flash fiction under 1,000 words. My titles were: White Ice, The No Snake, School of Voyage, The Petals’ Slaves, The Eye of the Elves, and Eye in the Years. I decided to roll a D6 and rolled a 4—The Petals’ Slaves it was! This piece will also appear as the July 4 entry for Another 365 Days of Flash Fiction.

The Petals’ Slaves

The flowers of Auril are beautiful, but those sequestered in a jungle-surrounded sinkhole high in the northern ranges were the most beautiful. We worshipped them. I don’t mean in a bow-down-and-sacrifice-your-first-born kinda way. I mean we protected them from depredation, shielded the knowledge of them from the outside world, and let not a whisper of them escape the planet. These flowers were unique amongst all the known worlds.
The fruit they bore was spectacular, the largest as tall as a man, hiding a single hard-husked seed, in the sweetest of flesh. Everyone hoped to be amongst those chosen to eat it. Everyone also hoped to remain unchosen, for the eaters did not survive.
These large fruit carried the flowers’ children, who emerged from the exposed seed. They always woke hungry, mindless in their voracity, and the fruit’s flesh was narcoleptic. The eaters were eaten alive, only waking when it was too late and they were too weak to struggle. It was a pity they were never too weak to scream.
And the flowers used this also, the tremor and pitch of their victims’ screams, triggering the release of pollen in clouds thick enough to coat everything it touched. The whole cycle of the flora’s conception and birth was related to death. And we did not mind.
The valley was fertile. The flowers grew other fruits, not containing voracious plant-people, and we had access to one of the greatest and most-ancient botanical libraries in the world. We also couldn’t leave if we wanted to. The flowers grew thickest around the paths leading out of the sinkhole, and nests of giant ants and carnivorous wasps frequented those areas.
When we’d first arrived the creatures coming out of the birth seeds had been ants, wasps, a couple of varieties of amphibians and a reptile. Since our coming, humanoid figures also emerged, joining our ranks once their eating was done. We called them gardeners, but they said we were all petals of the same flower, slightly different in hue, but all important. I suspect they’d acquired some of our literature by then. The gardeners soaked up knowledge in the same way their parents soaked up rain. Secretly, I called them ‘Petals’, after their favourite saying—all petals of the same flower, my ass.
Once they had absorbed the knowledge of star-spanning civilisations from those they ate, we could not leave. Our communications were down for months after the comms tech had been devoured, and similar advances in defensive blocks occurred every time someone with different knowledge ended up eating the deadly fruits. The gardeners infiltrated every aspect of our lives, running our crèches, operating our technologies, controlling our communications, and keeping track of our accesses. We didn’t suspect anything until it was too late.
Me? I just wanted out. I’d been chosen to be an eater, and I was nowhere near ready to die. I’d seen two friends go out and not come back, and I do not want to die.
But I will die, with three others whom I’ve never met. I’ve said goodbye to my family, and now I’m in the lab, putting my research in order so my students can carry on where I leave off. I’m not ready to do that, either, but I have to—no matter how this works out. I have to leave the valley. I just have to convince them to let me take in the view from the edge of the mountain… one last time.
They’ve put a watch on me. Seems someone found my research into hang-gliders off topic… good thing they didn’t realise those sewing classes I took weren’t because I wanted new sheets. At least, I hope not. No one’s thought to ask where the silk sheet set is. I guess they’re all waiting for me to head out to the fruiting ceremony before going through my stuff. Lucky me.
I lean on the lab bench and sigh. It’s only part drama—I do need to get their attention—but it’s also heartfelt regret. I need to stop and take a breath. When the gardener watching me comes in, I’m sitting on the floor, with my back against the cabinet, my head in my hands.
“What’s wrong?” she asks. “Surely you do not regret being chosen?”
I rub my face, and resist the urge to try and shred her neck stem.
“Of course not,” I manage. “To be chosen is an honour. It’s just…”
I look up at the ceiling and blink.
“It’s just?” she inquires politely.
I get to my feet, and wave her concerns away.
“It’s nothing,” I say. “Trivial. I should not let it bother me.”
She waits, and then takes a step towards me, tentative as she reaches out and puts a hand on my arm. Damn, these creatures have learnt fast.
“But it is,” she says. “We would want nothing to make you sad at the fruiting.”
As if my death won’t do that. I shake my head, touch her hand briefly, and look toward the door.
“I should make sure my quarters are in order,” I say, stepping around her as though that’s the end of the conversation.
She almost lets me go, but then tightens her grip. I stop, wait.
“Surely, I can help.”
“It’s probably not allowed,” I say, and act as though I’ll move away.
She does not let me go.
“Tell me.” It’s just shy of a command.
“I… it’s just I usually watch the sun set over the Lower Plains,” I hesitate seeing her frown, make a conciliatory gesture, “but I’ll understand if it’s not permitted.”
I had established the habit almost two years ago, when Tania was taken. The Petal regards me, steadily, and then nods.
“Come. I will take you.”
I pick up my jacket, put the backpack over my shoulder—it looks just like the one I normally carry, the one without the silk parachute tucked inside My Petal doesn’t even blink.
It’s a perfect evening for base-jumping.


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