A fire flickered behind the grate, holographic logs crackling, and though it looked and sounded real (to the untrained eye), it gave off neither the smell of pine nor the dry heat of a real log fire. The living room was warm and moist, lit only by the fake fire, the perpetual orange glow of the city, and the bright blue glow of Louise Hurd’s smartphone. She took one final scroll through her Insta feed, locked it, and placed it face down with a gentle clack on the coffee table. There was an article she read a few weeks ago about how humans weren’t meant to live inside, how thousands of years ago, humans made beds from ash and grass, and slept beneath the stars – or in caves, if it was cold. Computers were making them stupid, smartphones were shortening their attention span, technology was diminishing their ability to communicate. And houses and buildings were full of pollutants: from the paint and the bricks to the finishing on the hardwood floor. The article said that the key was to fill one’s house with plants. Plus, there were science backed benefits to indoor plants! They boosted creativity! They relieved stress!
That was why she’d bought the pothos. The big, beautiful golden pothos. The plant was supposed to be able to grow without sunlight, to thrive no matter how many weeks Louise forgot to water it for. So far, Golden Pothos appeared to live up to that reputation. Though she’d only watered it twice (when she first brought it home and then weeks later, when she noticed it was drooping), the vines had spread over her TV, over the grate of her fireplace, touching its glossy green palms over all her walls. She was surprised – no, floored – at the plants vivacity. She’d never heard the term “prolific”, but apparently, this pothos was a prolific grower. It had barely been the size of her palm when she’d brought it home a few weeks ago, and now, golden pothos had nearly taken over the whole of her lounge room with trailing vines taller than her!
But though the pothos had swallowed her TV and taken root in her cable box (she couldn’t even keep up with her shows anymore!), technology, the blue glow of her smartphone, still haunted even her dreams.
Every window of her childhood home was replaced by the screen she held in her hand. She dreamed of a thousand little thumbs sprouting in the garden like lilies-of-the-valley on a spring gathering.
“Oh, these lillies are just lovely,” said Aunt Edna. Lily-of-the-Valley smelled like home to Louise, it reminded her of her mother. Mama Hurd loved propagating her plants and sharing them with her sister. It was possible she loved her garden more than she loved her children, for she spent more time with her hands in the dirt than she did with any of them.
“They came from Great Grandmama Orpa’s garden in Apollo,” said Louise Hurd’s mother, “Grand Mammy planted them in 1945. Look how much they’ve grown!” Louise gazed absently at the blue thumbs jutting up from the green stems. She had heard Mama’s stories about Apollo more than a hundred times.
“You just have to let me have one,” gushed Aunt Edna.
“Of course, Edna,” said Mama Hurd. As she dug the blue thumbs from the garden, they doubled – no, tripled – no! The flowers towered over Mama Hurd and Aunt Edna, their great mouths baring blunted, gnashing teeth! One thumb lowered, and Aunt Edna was gone – another, and Mama Hurd was gone. One by one, the thumbs ate up Louise’s family, but all she could do was stand there and scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll.
On the bus to work, Louise sat with her shoulders hunched over her lap. On the elevator, all the way up the fourth floor, she stood at a ninety-degree angle, her crooked neck dangling her blue face over the glow. The elevator beeps at every floor, but she’s ridden it up so many times, she doesn’t budge until the seventh beep greets her.
Louise Hurd was an HR representative for Pendleton & Pendleton’s, Inc. (“The Pen of the People!”), even though she’d never actually learned to write by hand. Not many people did anymore and as those numbers dwindled, so did Pendleton & Pendleton’s, Inc. In addition to her, there were five other people left in the company (and not one of them was a Pendleton), but there was the ever lingering threat that handwriting would finally fall out of fashion and Pendleton & Pendleton’s, Inc. would close forever.
Louise knew she had to keep optimistic and so did her coworkers. That (and science backed benefits!) was why she’d brought in a clipping from Golden Pothos to her workplace.
“Golden pothos will clean the air!” she informed them, “People aren’t meant to breathe in cements and paints and carpet all day. People aren’t meant to sit in front of a computer screen. People are meant to live with the plants!”
“One plant won’t make a difference,” scoffed Penny Weinburg, the accountant.
“And neither will your negative attitude!” Louise rolled her eyes, placing her little pothos clipping in a glass of water.
It was a long day at work. With only five other people working at Pendleton & Pendleton’s, Inc., there wasn’t a whole lot for HR to do. Long gone were the days of solving disputes, hosting presentations on workplace diversity, sexual harrassment, and misogyny in the workplace. Now Louise Hurd was paid to scroll through her glowing screen all day, to visit vending machines, and to drink copious amounts of Starbucks.
She’d only popped out of her cubicle for a second, but the Golden Pothos had already rooted in her computer, tangled through her keyboard, and swallowed her mouse. The plant had taken over the desk, its fingers stretched out for the desk chair, still spreading. Louise dropped her coffee and the hot latte quickly turned cold on her feet. This was amazing! It grew even quicker than the pothos at home.
“Wow!” she exclaimed, “Check it out, guys! I never knew plants could grow so quickly!” Penny’s face appeared over the cubicle wall, unamused.
“Wow, Louise,” she mocked surprise, “We’re all so impressed with your… Whoa.” So Penny Weinburg wasimpressed with Louise’s beautiful pothos. Louise gave her a knowing smile. The pothos’ tendrils stretched over the cubicle, and Penny watched it. Her eyes were wide, probably because she was so impressed.
“Are they meant to grow that fast?” she asked. “It’s kinda freaky.”
“Don’t be stupid, Penny,” said Louise. “It just came from Bunnings.” She stuck her tongue out at her. No one else even bothered to look. Well, whatever, she rolled her eyes, they’ll all be swallowing their feet when this office is a bonafide jungle on Monday morning!
Louise Hurd’s phone glowed 4:58. Two minutes until it was time to leave. It beeped to remind her – you get to go home now! And there was a reminder for everything else, too! Showering, eating, sleeping – she’d even been meaning to set a reminder to water her home Pothos, though she supposed she’d need a reminder for Pendleton & Pendleton’s, Inc. Pothos now, too! She knew it was easy to propagate these pothos plants (there were so many articles about how to propagate pothos in water), but it really seemed like she must have quite the green thumb. Maybe she really was her Mama’s daughter after all.
Bubbling with excitement, finally! This must be what it was like to live amongst the plants. This must be why people aren’t meant to live amongst material things. On the bus ride home, she stared at her new lockscreen: the green striped hearts cascading over the filing cabinets. What ran through her mind was: golden pothos, golden pothos, golden pothos.
Golden Pothos waited at her front door to welcome her home, the vine, with flowers weeping, slithered through the mail slot into the hallway. How magnificent! Louise had never even seen a flower on a pothos plant (and she’d read an article somewhere about how pothos plants don’t flower in cultivation). Mama always had so many in the house, but they’d never spread out this much – not even close. Why, while Louise was at work, the Golden Pothos had taken over nearly her entire house! Her things were tangled in its tendrils: her mail, a copy of TIME magazine, her coffee mug, sandals, and a never-used, still-wrapped reusable water bottle (which she’d been meaning to bring with her to work for months – she’d read an article about how new york city was built on top of a floating island of trash which inspired her to do better by the world for just long enough to make the purchase).
The Green-Striped Hearts beat against her hair as she stepped through the door, grin plastered to her face. Mama should see this, thought Louise, taking her phone from her tote bag. It was so Instagrammable, and Mama would be so jealous. A tendril reached down from the ceiling, edging and curling slowly closer. Louise didn’t notice – she was too busy searching for the perfect angle to show off Golden Pothos’ beautiful flower: drooping purple, with a long white spine, like a lily. The tendril wound its way down her arm.
Golden Pothos opened its flower and within it, Louise saw teeth, brimming with golden pollen, and beyond the teeth, a great, yawning nothing – a pool, slick like an oil spill – and a sweet smell like maple syrup, like moon flowers on a hot summer night, the tremulous poison of a lily drifted through the apartment. The tendril lifted Louise and threw her through the teeth. Her phone landed on her chest. She smiled into the glow of her screen even as she stuck in the sap. A single fly buzzed frantically beside her ear and all she could do was scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll.
Elijah Rokos is an American expat and an aspiring educator and author. He enjoys writing poetry and speculative fiction, and wishes true crime was about art theft and forgery instead of murder.