Drawing: Plants in a greenhouse. They have eyes, and sharp teeth. Caption reads: “The plants seemed to have eyes … and teeth.”

Plants short story by Iris Carden

Settle in dear reader, while I tell you the strange tale of Sharon, who wanted to do something different with her life, but never realised how different it could be.

Sharon worked six days a week as a supermarket cashier, but still struggled to pay her rent.

She lived frugally, picked up extra shifts, and worked the longest hours she could, but always found that at the end of the pay there was too much fortnight left.

In the break room on day, while she ate her sandwiches, she flicked through a magazine, that had been removed from the store because it was damaged.

There was an ad looking for a housekeeper for a remote scientific facility. Accommodation was provided, and the wage was far better than the supermarket paid her.

With nothing to lose, and seemingly everything to gain, Sharon applied.

Sharon got the job, of course, and travelled to central western Queensland, to a facility on a dirt track near Boulia. Her old car rattled and shook along the dirt track, but it got her safely there.

She was surprised, having expected a fancy gleaming science-y building, to find a ramshackle old Queenslander, on high blocks, with the downstairs enclosed with concrete blocks. Behind the house was a huge greenhouse.

At the front door she was greeted by a man who looked like a scientist stereotype, and she couldn’t help but think of Doc from the Back to the Future movies.

He introduced himself as Dr Evan Evans, and said his assistant Peter, had gone into town for supplies.

He explained that what they did there was using a combination of cross breeding and genetic modification, to produce experimental plants which would eventually lead to the crops that would feed the world in the future. 

She would live in the house, along with Dr Evans and Peter, and would be responsible for cleaning the house and preparing all of the meals. She would not be required in the lab under the house, but would occasionally have to help out in the greenhouse if the others were away.

At that point, a man arrived, and began to unload groceries from the back of a once-white-now-dirt-coloured van.

Sharon rushed to help.  She introduced herself to Peter. Like Sharon, he was in his mid-twenties, and would tell her over coffee later that he was a PhD student, supervised by Dr Evans.

Dr Evans suggested Peter show Sharon how to attend to the plants in the glasshouse when he went that afternoon.

Outside the glasshouse, Peter hit a yellow button beside the door.  Through the misted glass, Sharon could see water raining down inside.

“We water for ten minutes before entering,” Peter said. “These are all experimental plants, some of which are ferns and mushrooms that give off spores.  Watering before we enter ensure there’s no floating spores in the air that might escape.  We don’t know what these plants would do in the environment, so we can’t take chances.”

Sharon nodded.

Peter continued, “While the plants are being watered we grab a bag of plant food.”  

He opened a door to the side of the door to the lab.  There was a room filled with filled sacks, along with a wheelbarrow and a couple of shovels.

Lifting a sack into the wheelbarrow, Peter said, “Can you grab the shovels?”

“Sure,” she said, picking up the two shovels.  

As they arrived back at the glasshouse, the water stopped running, and there was a buzzing noise. The door clicked.

Peter pulled the door open and pushed the wheelbarrow through.

There was something very off putting about the plants, Sharon found. Perhaps it was because she’d never seen plants that looked anything like them before.  More likely it was because they appeared to have eyes and teeth.

Peter looked at her confused expression and laughed.  “The Doc Evans’ sense of humour,” he explained. “He breeds them to look like they’ve got faces.  Don’t worry. It’s just an illusion.”

He used a sharp edge if the shovel to cut open the side of the sack.  There was an overpowering smell.

“Blood and bone fertiliser.  These experimental plants need a good feeding twice a week.  We do Monday and Thursday.  We just shovel it out and spread it evenly between them all. Then we get the second sack.  Two sacks, spread evenly feed the whole lot.”

“I’m not a scientist, of course,” Sharon said,” but it seems strange to me that the plants that are going to solve world hunger need an animal-based fertiliser twice a week, especially so much of it.”

Peter laughed again.  Sharon decided she liked the sound of his laugh.  “Well I am a scientist, and it only makes sense to me because I know these aren’t the final product.  They’re just a stage in development. We’re developing principles, finding out what works and doesn’t.  It’s all very experimental at the moment. Because, you’re right.  Nothing that depends on animal products is ever going to feed the planet’s growing population.”

So Sharon settled in to her new routine.  The work was not hard, and at night she, Peter and Dr Evans would often play cards or board games, as telephone, internet and television reception were all very patchy.

Most days, she would go for a walk around the property, and walking along a quiet little creek, not far from the house. Once a week, she or Peter would go to town for supplies, and while there she would use the precious telephone signal to call family or friends, or order books and other items online. All in all, she felt her new life was a great improvement on the one she had left behind.

When something seems too good to be true, dear reader, it’s frequently either not true, or not good.

It was a Thursday afternoon and Sharon was starting to prepare dinner.  She turned on a tap, instead of the regular flow of water, there were gurgling and grunting noises and the tiniest trickle.

Sharon pressed the button for the intercom to the lab and told Dr Evans about the problem. He said he would fix it. 

Looking out the window, she saw Dr Evans with a large spanner turning working on the pipes coming from the water tanks.

Then he called her on the intercom and said the primary water tank had run out and he’d just changed over to the secondary tank.  He said if they didn’t get rain soon, they would need a water carter to fill the tanks.

Sharon absorbed this information, for the first time realising how precarious life outside of the city really was.

Dr Evans came upstairs for dinner, but Peter did not.  

“He’s working late, you can put his dinner in the fridge for later,” Dr Evans said.

Sharon did so.  By the time she went for bed, Peter had not returned.

The next morning, he was still absent.

“Peter decided to leave.  He’s abandoned his studies,” Dr Evans said. 

“How did he leave? His van’s still here?” Sharon was genuinely puzzled.

“Oh the van is mine.  Peter was just driving it while he was here.  A friend of his came to pick him up last night.  You were asleep, and he didn’t want to wake you to say good bye. Until I have another assistant, you will have to take over feeding the plants.”

Life continued on, almost as usual until Monday, when Sharon went to feed the plants.  She hit the sprinklers, and went to load up the wheelbarrow.  

After the door clicked open, Sharon wheeled the loaded barrow in, broke open the sack the way she’d seen Peter do, and began to spread the stinking fertiliser.

She saw something glint in the wet dirt and fertiliser slurry on the glasshouse floor. Picking it up, she saw it was a man’s watch.  She turned it over to see engraved on the back: “For Peter on your twenty-first birthday, love Mum and Dad.”

Why would Peter drop his watch in here and not pick it up? It obviously had sentimental value.

She tucked the mucky watch into her jeans pocket, planning to ask Dr Evans if he had a forwarding address for Peter.

Sandra went back to re-load the wheelbarrow.  Dr Evans was there.

“You have to do it faster,” he said.  “You have to spread all of the fertiliser and be out of the greenhouse before the plants dry.”

“I’m working as fast as I can,” Sandra answered.  “You can help if you want to make it faster.”

He didn’t follow her through the door, but stood outside and watched her work.

That seemed strange. If the job had to be done so quickly, and the scientist had time to stand in the doorway, surely he could help.

She spread fertiliser as quickly as she could. 

Suddenly, she saw a movement. She jumped back a step.  One of the plants had definitely moved.  Then another.  Those mouths that were just an illusion were presenting a very good illusion of opening, of baring teeth.  Stems stretched toward her.  

She ran for the door, to see the Doctor starting to close it.

She pushed against the door and fought her way out.

“What the hell was that?” she demanded.

“Nothing.  There’s nothing, just plants.”

“Just plants! If it’s just plants, you go in there!”

“You can’t tell anyone! My research will be over!”

“It bloody well should be!”

The doctor tried to grab Sandra by the throat.

Realising she was still holding a shovel, she used it to hit him in the head.

The scientist collapsed in the doorway.

Sharon put all her weight against the door, pushing it closed, pushing Dr Evans along with it, and locking him in.

He must have recovered consciousness, as she heard screams.  She couldn’t open the door to help him. The door would only unlock after the sprinkler had run for ten minutes.

And so, dear reader, we leave Sharon, heading in to town with a story to tell, and with a future back in the city, standing at the checkout and glad for the challenges of the life she leads.

I invite you, dear reader, to look out for more:

Strange Tales

While you’re here…

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Everything on this site is the product of human, not artificial, intelligence.


By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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