AntipodeanSF Issue 309

By Gregory Ballinger

It was a glorious spring day. The birds were singing, the sun was shining, and Stanley was enjoying a lovely stroll around his garden before his wife, Iris, would come home with the shopping and he’d have to go and help her. Stanley inspected the leaves on the maple tree beginning to unfurl, and its small but fragrant flowers filled his nostrils with their sweet scent. The garden always smelt fresher after a few days of rain, and Stanley stood in the centre of the lawn breathing it all in when, suddenly, a strange perfume he didn’t recognise played about his nose. He sniffed at the air but couldn’t place it — it smelt like a sweet enticing dessert and Stanley followed his nose to the very back of the garden by the compost heap where he allowed the garden to become a little wild and unruly.

Sniffing the air like a dog, Stanley crouched down and brushed away the long grass to reveal the most extraordinary wildflower he had ever seen. It was star shaped and deep red with yellow stripes leading to its centre. Stanley noted that no insects seemed to be buzzing around it, despite the strong heady smell it was giving off. Pushing the grass away some more, he noticed a dazed looking rabbit breathing rapidly and the strange-looking flower appeared to be growing out from its mouth. “Strange,” Stanley said out loud, concluding in his thoughts that the wonderful scent must be masking the odour of the half-dead animal. 

Close up, the fragrance soon became intoxicating and seemed to draw Stanley closer in to have a whiff. Stanley angled his face towards the plant’s centre, aiming his nose and using the strange yellow lines like a runway, guiding him in. The tip of Stanley’s nose tickled against the centre of the plant and there followed an audible pop as if a small toy gun had gone off.

Stanley rapidly pulled back away from the plant and managed to raise his hands to his face as if he were about to sneeze — but instead, everything went black. When Stanley came to, he found his wife, Iris, kneeling next to him dabbing his head with a wet cloth. 

“You silly man,” she told Stanley, “You scared me half to death.” 

Stanley sat up and scratched his head, confused — but then a tickle in his nose made him sneeze violently several times in a row. 

“Goodness gracious me,” Iris exclaimed “Whatever have you been doing to get yourself in such a state?”

“The flower, it…” Stanley began, but when he pushed aside the long grass the flower had gone. It had withered away to nothing and left the half-dead rabbit still lying there looking half dazed. “I was smelling…” Stanley pointed.

“You’re a daft old fool sometimes,” Iris told him, helping him up. “If you will go around sniffing mouldy old rabbits what do you expect?” she continued as they walked back to the house. 

In the kitchen Stanley sat on the chair, and Iris handed him a glass of water. “I suppose this means you won’t be helping me with the shopping,” Iris went on, “Don’t you go sniffing any mouldy potatoes in the cupboard while I’m gone.”

Stanley watched her go and then took a sip of the water but immediately didn’t feel right. It was as if something was moving inside his body, mixing with the water. 

Iris reappeared moments later and dumped the first set of bags down.

“I think I might lie down,” Stanley told her, and Iris made an impatient noise in her throat before disappearing again. 

Stanley got up and almost immediately felt unsteady on his feet. “Perhaps, I’ll lie down here,” he managed to say, falling to the floor and lying on his back with his hands on his stomach. It felt like a serpent was writhing around inside him. 

When Iris returned with another set of bags, Stanley managed to groan, “Call a doctor will you? I don’t feel right.”

“Just a jiffy, I’ve left the boot open. What if someone steals the rest of the shopping?”

“Forget the shopping, you silly old boot, call the ambulance — my stomach…”

“Never have I been so insulted in all my life,” Iris gasped — but when Stanley lifted up his shirt she could see there was something moving around under his skin as if looking for a way out. “I’ll call an ambulance,” she declared finally and rushed to the phone in the hallway. 

On the phone, Iris tried to explain what had happened: “He was outside sniffing a dead rabbit, yes that’s right a dead rabbit. Well, I don’t think he makes a habit of it, but he is retired and sometimes the days do drag on,” she explained. “He’s in the kitchen now on the floor, yes that’s him screaming in agony. Well, he can be quite dramatic sometimes. Oh, wait a minute, he seems to have stopped carrying on. I’ll have to go and check on him.”

Iris crept back into the kitchen and peered around the door. Stanley was still on his back, spread out like a starfish. His chest was rising and falling so she knew he was still breathing, but his eyes were wide open and glazed. Iris crept closer and noticed a small green stalk rising up like a cobra’s head from his open mouth. Once it reached its full height, it unfurled into a beautiful red star-shaped flower with yellow stripes. Iris began to feel dizzy, not only from the shock of what she was seeing, but also from the heady smell of perfume filling the room. She edged closer to check on Stanley, but there was something about the yellow stripes and the flower’s fragrance that pulled her closer. The very tip of her nose tickled the flower’s centre, then there was an audible pop and everything went black.

rocket crux 2 75

About the Author

greg ballingerGregory Ballinger is an avid reader, writer and time traveller.

When Gregory is not reading or writing, he often travels back to the 1800’s in England where he likes to spend his time in country gardens as an ornamental hermit contemplating life in the cosmos.

Gregory also likes cats.

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antipod-show-50Our weekly podcast features the stories from recently published issues, often narrated by the authors themselves.

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