“See ya when I see ya! Have a nice afterlife!”
Something foul wrinkles Etty’s top lip all the way to the bridge of her nose, something which reeks so especially rotten and vile that it causes her to snap up straight and drop the three-strong tower of cans she was holding back into their box. In her peripheral vision she sees a flash of pink, the reds and whites of the labels blurring together in their tumbling motion, then the smell overwhelms her again.
Etty begins to cough. Etty doubles over, grasping her stomach with one hand and covering her mouth with the other, then continues to cough.
“Etty dearest!” calls a baby bird’s voice from up on the second floor. “Are you alright, my sweet? You sound like you’ve choked on a chicken, Etty!”
Knocking sealed cardboard boxes this way and that – they must be full of clothes; if there were cans or bottles in those boxes, Sister Etty would have been the one who was knocked – a violently coughing Etty barges out from beneath the second floor overhang and spins all around, trying to figure out which railing that voice came from.
“Etty, you poor sweetie!” comes chirping up behind her, and Etty hardly has a chance to wipe her becoughed hand on her habit before she’s taken by the shoulders and given the standard jarring look about. “What happened to you, dearie?”
Sister Etty takes Sister Letty’s arms by the wrists and returns them to their rightful owner. “I am all right, Sister Letty, I just smelled something foul is all. The same thing I smelled last night–”
“That you smelled last night when you woke with a fright?” Letty interjects earnestly.
“Please don’t start with your joyous rhymes, Sister Letty,” pleads Sister Betty after fourteen seconds pass in unsteady silence. “You know how they make us all feel.”
Sister Letty bows and turns, walks off in the direction from which she chirped.
“You said you smelled something, Sister Etty?” Sister Betty asks softly when Sister Etty’s breathing has calmed down a bit. “Was it gas? It might be a gas leak if it gave you that sort of a reaction, oh Etty what if there’s a gas leak? Why has the Lord given us a gas leak now, Sister Etty? Of all times, why now–”
“Enough Betty, please!” Etty warns with a swipe of her arm. Betty mouses down. “It’s not a gas leak, the Lord would never bequeath such a thing on us. Everything He does happens for a reason, you know that. I need some space, please.” She bends her knees and rests her hands there, breathing deeply. “Oh I hate that smell, it’s so foul and wicked! I woke up in the middle of the night because I thought I smelled it, I knew I smelled that awful reek!”
“What wicked reek did you smell, Sister Etty?” Sister Betty asks, her face long with frightened concern.
“Nothing, or at least that’s what I thought last night. I woke Sister Letty up – I peeked into your room and you looked so soundly asleep, Sister Betty, I did not want to disturb you–”
“When last night, Sister?” Betty interrupts cautiously. Etty looks into her eyes and calls off the lecture she was about to deliver for being interrupted. “Was it… before…”
“I don’t know,” Etty snaps shortly. “It was late, I don’t know. Could have been before, could have been after. I didn’t notice anything, I’m not withholding information if that’s what you think, Sister Betty.”
“Sister Etty, no–”
“Because if you think I’m doing a bad job–… better yet, if you think you could do a better job of heading this new household of ours, please oh please be my guest. Please! ”
“Sister Etty! I was just curious and you know it!” Betty whines, shoving at her Sister before turning and taking two steps away. Then, to herself, Betty begins speaking to the Lord. Asking Him to explain Himself, asking why He has brought this new blessing unto their land, how they’re supposed to accept that this is all a blessing in the first place.
A light pressure falls on Sister Betty’s right shoulder. “Betty,” Etty says, “I’m sorry. I know this is hard. This is hard for all of us, we’re all very confused. I’m trying my best, I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
“It’s all right,” Sister Betty says as she turns around, wiping more than a single tear from her rosy cheeks. “It’s fine, I’m… I’m fine.” She makes an effort to straighten up. “What foulness did you smell to give you such a vicious coughing spell, Sister Etty?”
“I detected a retched scent last night, Sister Betty. The stench of the Devil’s Lettuce.”
“Oh no…” Sister Betty says, then sighs a sigh so laced with surrender it comes out white. “Why does it have to be that…”
Sister Etty pivots her left leg away from Sister Betty. “What’s this? The Devil’s Lettuce is not a joking matter, Sister Betty, it’s nothing to take lightly at all!”
“It could just be a skunk, Etty… you know, like that one time…” Sister Betty lays out while looking away from Sister Etty.
“I smelled pot smoke last night, Betty, the smoke. In our church, and before you even ask, no, it wasn’t when… when whatever happened last night happened. I smelled pot smoke, not…” She waves her hands in little circles a couple times, then, “…not everything smoke.”
“Fine, then maybe we’re not alone here. Maybe it’s a survivor, maybe they holed up here last night to avoid getting caught up in what happened. Lord knows that’s why we really came here–”
“Blasphemy!” Sister Etty accuses with the point of an arthritic finger. “The Lord does not possess His children, nor does He lead them down a path with blindfolds on their heads, no matter where that path may take them! We came here because we had a duty to do, and it just so happened that our duty coincided with… or rather led to a new, more important duty which we must now tend to.”
“And what duty is that? What even happened, Sister Etty? Do you know? Because I haven’t the slightest idea, it’s all jus–” Sister Better says so sharply she’s cut off.
“I think I dooooooooo,” flows harmoniously from the second floor. “It starts with an aRe and it ends with an Eee, it cometh unto you and it cometh unto me ; I’ll say what you’re thinkin’, you unfortunate bastard! The good all ascended, now we’re stuck in Rapture! ”
“Sister Letty! ” screams Sister Etty. Her hand flies to her throat and clutches there, then, “Please… please, I am begging you, please no more of that. What’s happened is bad enough.”
“Wait, are you be–”
“What’s happened is bad enough! ” brings the matter to a conclusion. “Now listen up, Sisters, because we need to address this. I smelled pot smoke last night, and Sister Letty, I originally agreed with you and believed that my mind was playing tricks on me. But I just smelled it now. Again.”
“I smell it, Sister,” Sister Letty says flatly. “Smelled it last night, too, but I didn’t say anything because it was late and I imagined you were asleep as soundly as Sister Betty before you let yourself be bothered.” She shrugs. “It’s probably a refugee; I say we pay them no mind until we stumble upon them. They’ve clearly hidden themselves, whoever they are; who are we to go and find them? When they’re ready to come out they’ll come out.”
“But we won’t stumble upon them, Sister Letty,” Sister Etty rumbles, looking directly into Sister Betty’s eyes the whole way through. “It’s coming through the vents from the basement, that’s the only logical explanation. All the windows are closed and we’ve been through every room on the ground floor and both rooms upstairs.”
“All right,” Sister Letty admits, leaning on the railing. “Sister Betty, you haven’t said a word. Do you smell the scent of the Devil’s Cabbage?”
“The Devil’s Lettuce,” snares Sister Etty. “The Devil’s Cabbage is money, Letty. You should know that better than any of us.”
“I think we’re all very jumbled up because of what’s happened,” Sister Betty says softly. Her Sisters mercifully stop bickering. “I think… I don’t know if it’s Rapture or not, but that’s as good a name for all this as any. I think it took us by surprise and now that we’re taken by it, we’re very upset. And that’s fine. What’s not fine is yapping at each other like spoiled brats arguing over who gets the extra hour in the virtual reality headset!” Sister Betty’s face is burning a deep red, the color of rose oil. “Sister Etty, if you think there is somebody in the basement and you want to help them, then we should go look.” She opens her eyes back up and raises a finger at Sister Etty. “But, if you want to go down there just to take whoever we find and throw them out in the street, if you really mean to do that now of all times, then just don’t.”
“Just don’t! ” Sister Betty roars with a stomp of her foot. “I will not have the Devil’s work done under the roof of my home, no matter who the head of that home may be. The Lord finishes His work in mysterious ways, I can accept that, but I’ll not have you commit atrocities in His name, Sister Etty. Do you understand me? ”
Sister Betty turns around and tromps back to her pile of boxes, leaving Etty alone amongst the pews beneath the open second floor of St. Wuester’s Church, the oldest standing structure in all of Wuester, New Jersey – so old, in fact, that it was made entirely of ancient impenetrable stone, making it a fantastic place to store things such as boxes of clothing, canned food goods and bottled water, the odd cache of worn shoes, a backpack here and there; everything collected in the wooden donation booths once stationed outside the church. There’s no paperwork or formalities, no human contact necessary: you just roll up, toss your stuff into the hole, and go on your merry way. Don’t even worry about it, your stuff will be donated to a charity in need when one is eventually found. For sure.
These donation bins are no rarity around these parts, and they tend to fill up fast in small towns like Wuester; St. Wuester’s Church has four classroom-size spaces and one small office under its roof, and every single one is full almost to the ceilings with boxes.
They were almost full, that is, until the Sisters came back inside this morning, and two of the classrooms are still packed like a full bowl, but at this point the Sisters have a good chunk of the donated loot opened up in the Prayerway in an attempt to organize some of it. Only a handful of the pews are open – the rest seat everything the Sisters will need to survive for the foreseeable future, maybe even longer. If nobody shows up they could likely survive until old age takes them, which it will sooner or later anyway. That wouldn’t be bad at all, come to think of it, dying of old age in a world that never got the chance.
No, that wouldn’t be bad at all.
‘You do your work, my Lord,’ Sister Etty prays as she returns to her box of soup waiting outside the classroom door under the shadow of the second floor. ‘May thine work be finished, however strangely the way it must be done.’
Hello Commons, this has been the first subchapter of the first chapter of Flowers, a novel about a man who smokes the last of his pot.
Flowers is part of the Third Spiral, an anthology of sorts called The Here and Now which is comprised of stories told from the various planes of Existence.
Flowers is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
If you like Flowers and would like to help support my work, click here and buy an autographed copy of the book (or anything else!) from my store. Alternatively, you can snag a cheaper (and unsigned) copy from Amazon by clicking here.
Be well Commons~