A Perilous Spring Walk Through East Vancouver
Elise walked along Parker, tip tapping her phone as her sunglasses slid down her nose and one bare wired ear bud dangled uselessly at her hip. She crossed at Renfrew and dipped down onto Venables where her adventure would begin.
It was a hot, humid, hay fever; one of those prevalent in late spring where everything smells of lawn cuttings and warm concrete – a sticky, itchy sort of day. Elise skirted, without looking up, an old woman dragging a wheeled shopping bag, and moved aside briefly to avoid a young man who wasn’t paying attention. Without thinking, she stepped off the concrete and onto a wild, untrimmed patch of nodding bluebells and, as she lowered her hand to her pocket, the one working headphone was jerked from her ear. She grabbed at the wire as it fell, twirling and tangling it around her fingers, and thus commenced, with an unpleasant jolt and the horrifying sensation of skin shrinking around bone, the greatest and most terrifying adventure of her otherwise very ordinary life.
Elise woke up tiny, lying on her back among the towering grasses. She wondered, through dizzying pain, who or what had struck her, before rolling her aching head to the side and catching sight of one of her ear buds, enormous as a boulder, on the ground beside her.
Better not move, she thought. I must be concussed. So Elise lay still and waited for someone to come to her assistance. She waited, and waited, and waited…until, against her better judgement and every piece of advice she had ever heard on TV – Stay with me! Don’t you sleep! Look at me! Stay with me – she lost consciousness again.
This time, when she woke, it was to the sensation of someone suckling her toes. Realization crept upon her, timidly, politely. At first, before she had identified exactly what the feeling was, it was…well, quite nice, actually. Then, as the suckling grew stronger, more insistent, the only appropriate thought hit Elise like a freight train.
What the FUCK?
Possible spinal injury be damned, she sat up, expecting to encounter one of humanity’s most insidious perverts. Instead she saw a dusty head dipped in violet, sunlit beauty, balanced with sculpted indigo grace upon the end of a supple emerald stem. Sharp, dark green leaves rose up behind it like the shifting, angular shoulder blades of feeding wings, and, as the bluebell licked and tickled and sucked, Elise was entranced. Something wonderful – a sweet anaesthetic – coursed through her blood, and she sank back, surrendering little by little to its sweetness with each languid pump of her heart.
Then the burning started as a gush of hot liquid seared her feet. Blisters rose and burst as her skin fizzed and dissolved. A terrible, deeper ache as the substance reached her tendons caused her to kick out, any thought left in her mind putrefying into a raw scream. Her foot connected with something soft deep down in the bluebell’s gullet, and the sharp edges of a cheap pedicure caused the thing to retch, those hideous shoulder blade leaves heaving as Elise slithered free, slimed and searing. She ripped herself from the ground, hauling herself upright on a blade of grass that sliced her hands and wreaked sharp scalpel wounds upon her flesh. The retching bluebell raised its head and screeched the stink of decay into her face, its salivating, quivering, purple maw spitting acid as it threaded menacingly towards her.
Elise shrieked, raised her bleeding arms, and closed her eyes just in time as something unspeakable doused her. Then she ran…or tried to. Her shoes were gone and the pain was unbearable but the thought of being slowly suckled to death was so much worse. Other bluebells, those sweet and tranquil blooms, fairy bells of her childhood, stilled their bobbing heads and, as one, turned towards her with a hiss and a rattle: a warning.
I’m their prey, she realized as she stumbled over perilous earth and fingers of moss that clutched and clamoured at her jeans, snagging her, dragging her down to feed their wizened goblin faces. I’m prey. Me. I’m PREY.
She reached the safety of the concrete and flung herself upon the once familiar sidewalk that had become a vast rocky wasteland. She lay, face down and gasping, under the blazing sun of a dandelion for what seemed like an eternity until she was able to muster the strength to roll over.
What is happening? What’s happening to me?
The dandelion stared her down. She stared back. It was golden with an intensity that she had never seen before, and it was gorgeous.
“At least you’re not trying to eat me,” she said. “I never thought I would say that to a flower.”
The dandelion turned its face towards her and, with a long howl that shuddered up from its roots deep underground, it called its young home. The cry rumbled through the concrete beneath her, quaking through her bones, and Elise lay rigid, terrified of what she might see, more terrified by far of what might happen to her if she closed her eyes. Then, as the howling ceased and the dandelion retreated, she saw them, floating down on twisting currents of hot city air, more delicate than feathers, more exquisite than lace – the seeded puff from a lion’s mane.
Elise remembered dandelion clocks and how she used to pluck them, blowing the seeds to tell the time.
They twirled and spun, weaving down in lazy spirals, hypnotic, mesmerizing as the tiny strands of their trailing feathers glittered in their mother’s golden light. Elise thought the seedlings were the most beautiful things she had ever seen and wondered what the catch was. The concrete grew hotter; the dandelion bathed her in warm benevolence; the seedlings danced on the wind, looping and dipping, lower and lower until she could see their faces.
They howled at her with ghoulish mouths and ravening eyes. As the concrete around her began to smoke, Elise fled, burning under the glare of the mother, and in her wake, the wailing seedlings flew.
She fell, often, and her hands and knees became scraped and bloody. The seedlings pursued, baying at her heels and, now and then, she felt the narrow miss of clacking jaws. A spit, a snarl, a nip, they harried her, and her breath tore her lungs as she ran, thinking of nothing but survival.
A crevasse, a crack in the sidewalk opened up in front of her, and she threw herself down, rolling and scraping into the cover of cool darkness as the hunting seedlings winged overhead. Did they have her scent? Would they starve her out? She cowered in the dark as they passed over until the fiendish yaps and yammers faded into the distance. At length, the silence convinced her that they had gone, and she sagged down against damp earth.
“I can help you, you know,” a worm with a soft voice whispered in her ear. “Mm…You smell so…terribly afraid. Let me help you.”
Elise bolted back into the light.
“Please help me!” she screamed. “Somebody help me!”
But no one answered. Elise was lost among the grass and the stones and the flowers that would see her dead. No one would help her. No one could see her. It was at this moment that she began to contemplate the idea that she was completely…fucked.
This is going to kill me. She choked on the tang of panic that threatened to claw her down and resolved, if nothing else, to run, faster and harder than she ever had before. This she did, for a few paces, until the pain from her blistered feet prevented her from going further and she hobbled to a stop. There, strung up among the bluebells, fragile as moth wings, she saw the dried up, juiceless husks of other humans.
Elise felt she could do nothing at this point but stare, open-mouthed and abject, as the full weight of this knowledge crushed her, ground her down, and stripped her bare. Humans are accustomed to living, if not always consciously, as predators, and now Elise reeled with the knowledge that she had become prey to be hunted, consumed, and snacked upon. It was quite a blow. She backed away from the edge of the grass, away from the lethal plants, toward the safety of the barren sidewalk. She didn’t stop until she reached the centre, and there she sat down, drew her knees to her chest and hid her face, feeling more exposed than she ever had in her life.
One breeze wafted the hair at her ear and then another. A brief pause and then another breeze. Elise raised her face, tear-streaked. A gaudy butterfly beat the air before her.
“Please help me,” she said. “I just want to go home.”
“Get awaaaaay!” the butterfly shouted and charged at her.
“Fuck!” Elise yelped, shielding her head and scrambling to her feet as the butterfly battered her. “What’s your problem? What’s your fucking problem?”
“You’re trespassing! Ye dirty bitch, this is my patch! Go on, feck off! Get away. Get out of here, ye dirty bitch! I’ll suck your fucking nectar!” It flicked a long, lizardous tongue at her, and Elise felt a sudden sting as the tongue lashed her cheek.
“Okaaay, I’m going!” she wailed, thoroughly fed up. “Why won’t you all just leave me alone? It’s not like I’m doing this on purpose!”
“Get awaaaaay!” The butterfly shouted again and slapped her. Elise fell to the ground, stunned, tasting blood. The butterfly struck her again and again, and she crawled forward, scrabbling for gritty purchase until her nails ripped. Finally, she broke free and ran for it. The butterfly gave chase, incensed and howling obscenities. Elise sprinted to the curb and skidded to a stop just in time to stop herself plummeting over the edge into the fast-running gutter of recent rain.
“I’ll have your nectar, ye filthy grub! Fucking slug! What you looking at, ye pervert? Crawler! I’ll – aaargh!”
Regaining her balance, Elise turned as she heard the butterfly scream and saw its wings beating futilely as it spat and snarled curses, struggling against a toxic web of chewing gum. The more it fought to free itself, the more it became enmeshed in the fibrous strands, and Elise watched as the struggles grew weaker.
“Crawler!” she screamed at the butterfly. “I hope it tears your legs off!” And, turning back to the gutter where a river of ditchwater surged far below, she hurled herself over the edge.
Elise fell, for what seemed like a long time, feeling a peculiar sensation of relief that the gutter would carry her away from those fierce plants and creatures. Would she survive the fall? She didn’t know and by this point, honestly, didn’t really care. It seemed like a better way to die than being sucked dry by a carnivorous bluebell or beaten to death by a foul-mouthed butterfly. It came as a surprise when she landed with a crunch instead of a splash on the metal raft of a crumpled beer can.
Carried downriver toward Commercial Drive on the fluxing, bounding currents of the gutter, Elise wept, partially from relief that she wasn’t dead and partially from fear that she was headed…somewhere else. Worse? Perhaps. Would she be saved? Perhaps not. Would she ever get herself out of this mess and find her way home? Who knew? All she was aware of, in this moment, was that her blistered feet hurt and that the rusted beer can was carrying her swiftly away from those monsters. A rush of adrenaline dissipated into heavy bliss as her heart rate finally slowed. She relaxed, she breathed, she watched the dappled sunlight through the canopy of enormous leaves far above as she floated through a world far wilder than she had ever imagined and, as she drifted into sleep, she glanced to the side and saw, through the infinite window of a towering human house, the heads of dusty bluebells bobbing lifeless in a vase.