The heat weighed down upon me.
I entered a hothouse and heard soft voices speaking somewhere among the plants. I heard someone begging as well.
Around me, stacked high on raised platforms, plants of various species stretched out toward the sunlight funneled down to them. The hot air was thick with moisture, and I wondered how anyone could bear to be in the room.
I made my way toward the voices.
As I did so, the broad leaves of the plants turned to me, quivering and rustling with each step I took.
The begging became a low, piteous moan.
“Alfred,” a man demanded. “What have I told you about the moaning?”
The noise increased.
“Alfred,” the man snapped. “I’ll have David trim something painful if you don’t stop.”
I rounded the corner and came upon a pair of men. They had their backs to me, and they wore gardeners’ garb. In a raised bed in front of them was a man. Or what was left of a man.
I could make out most of his skull, a good portion of his chest, and half of his right arm. Vines had burrowed into his flesh, and there was little humanity left in his face. It was, for the most part, a writhing mass of roots. Alfred’s eyes were gone, as were his ears and his nose. The few remaining fingers on his right hand twitched, the movement sending ripples through the plants around him.
“There are still a few more nerves we can poke and prod,” the man on the left stated. “I’m certain David would be happy to assist, seeing as how his beau left him for you.”
“She still cries, wondering where you are,” David stated, snickering. “I’ve been consoling her. She’s quite malleable when she’s had a few drinks, Alfred. Did you know that?”
I suspect David planned on saying more to him, but I slipped the pruning knife into his lung.
The older man looked at me with horror, frozen in place by fear. I let David fall to the floor.
“Where’s the boy?” I asked.
The man hissed, “The last place you’ll look.”
A root whipped past me and wrapped around his throat. I watched as he clawed at it, tearing his own throat with his nails.
It takes a man a long time to die when he’s being strangled, and Alfred took his time.
I’d have made it last, too.