Today’s speculative horror short was inspired by a photo taken June 18, 2022 of firefighters battling a wildfire in Pumarejo de Tera, near Zamora, Spain. The fire tragically ravaged nearly 50,000 acres of land. Today’s story isn’t at all about fighting fires, however. Oh no, it’s much more about the specialists who are tasked with starting them. I do so hope you enjoy this creepy tale.
Through the laminated fiberglass windows of a ladder truck, I am comforted by another squadron’s success. Slash and burn. The fireball sky is an extension of the scorched canopies and flaming wheat fields below it. Well done, comrades.
Wicked weeds snake their way through the deciduous forests of North America converting everything to their cause. A biological weapon, released by a foreign government as an act of war or an evolved species of poisonous plant already common on the continent, the source has yet to be determined, and frankly doesn’t matter when you’re on the frontline, watching thick vines strangle out everything you love, down to the smallest blade of grass.
I notice two hollow holes on a cow’s face. Poor sod likely scratched its own eyes out on a rock. The itching is that intense. Scabs and pustules cover the hides, and I’m grateful when the field billows over with smoke.
When we cross a metal cattle grid, I know we’re close. The dairy farm appears deserted. Every surface is coated with the mold-like growth.
Fire Specialists have one mission: fight fire with fire. Stop the spread of contagion by flaming anything in the way.
Chief Rhus speaks on the coms, setting a parameter for the scorch and a time period for the mission.
“Chandler? Chandler? Do you copy?” I was expecting this.
“Focus on the children. Let us know when the delivery is made.”
“Yes, Chief. Copy.”
Unlike the petrified adults, children are made manic by the weeds. On this squad, I’ve got the highest years of survival, which means I’m the most qualified to deal with them.
I check my protective gear, then pull out a set of cooling mats out from the truck, place them in a shady patch in the backyard before I hook up a hose and begin the arduous task of filling them with water. We’ve discovered these mats soothe infected skin and as expected one or two little ones pop their heads over a vine-strangled hedge. Emerald eyes, the weeds have full control of this lot.
“Watering weeds, are you?” Infected children assimilate into a hive of sensory perception.
“What? You’re not merely weeds. You’re precious to God’s garden.” I tell them and continue to carefully fill the mats, cautious to never turn my back towards the group.
Another infected youngster ventures out onto the mat’s surface. She spreads her arms and legs wide. Soon the others join her. Up close, their skin crawls from the wicked inside of them. Another child lies down to itch an untouchable spot on his pustuled back. I wait for as many of them as I can to congregate. Five in total. Not a bad haul.
“Yes, most soothing. Thank you, friend.” It matters not which one speaks, their minds are connected.
“So glad to help. That’s why I’m here. To help all of you. To ease your suffering.”
As soon as the cooling pad is full, I trip a wire and the mat cinches, lurching into the air. Inside, the infected children scramble to collect their footing. After a minute of panic, the girl peers over the edge, tittering in eerie calmness.
“Mother tree will not keep us long. You silly sapling.” The child spits on me to spread the sick. Her wad of poisonous saliva slides off my protective visor.
The children are motionless in their cool cage. They know I’m outnumbered, and they have the infected on their side.
In a matter of minutes, just long enough for me to gather my strength, the entire infected limb snaps. The cool mat crashes to the ground but remains closed. The wicked weeds were right, their mother did not hold them in her arms for long.
I tie another knot in the bag top and drag it onto the vine-covered porch and through the the doorway of the infected house.
“She is knitting. She is knitting. Always sitting. Always sitting.” The children chant in unison as we pass. They seem to retain some knowledge that the petrified woman birthed them, be it what must feel like a lifetime ago.
Knitting needles remain in her hands, yet every inch of her skin has turned lime green. The weeds in her hair penetrate her skull, and bulge below her features. A few tendrils sprout from her nose like saplings growing a garden bed.
“Old mother has been wanting company for so long. How kind of you to visit her.” The children giggle, squirm in the waterbed bag.
Based on my experience, old mother is too full of the weeds to move, but I notice her emerald eyes trail me as I drag her progeny past on creaking timbers.
The basement door is sealed shut by vines. With one hand, I retrieve the axe on my back to hack it open, careful to keep a firm grip on the cinched cool sack. Once through, I curse my luck. The stairs are slick, wicked weeds strike at my ankles as I descend. Luckily, my boots are equipped with revolving spurs which act as pruning shears as I pass.
I switch on the coms.
“Commander, start the countdown. Five minutes, starting now, assimilate”.
I stop mid-stair to set my watch. A risky move, as the wicked weeds are thick overhead and if I’m not careful they will whack me down the remaining stairs and leave me stranded at the bottom for their saplings to suck on.
Sensing my apprehension, the children begin flailing in their cold prison.
What lies below used to be a basement. Rows of canned goods are now entwined in thick vines, their golden lids popped open, letting oxygen rot the contents.
The floor is flooded with weeds. A seabed of green. It takes all my strength to haul the cold pouch the final few steps.
“You will taste marvelous. Yes, come. Put us to bed.” The girl speaks close to my ear through the cool fabric of the net. Two minutes remain.
I take deep breaths and stretch, readying myself for the release. There’s no way to fake it like the catch. All the young weeds await their chance to strangle my neck, encircle my ankles, drag me down into their playpen to be their newest toy.
One minute thirty seconds. I light my torch. It’s now or never.
“The Delivery has been made. Copy.”
“Copy that. Delivery made.”
The farmhouse will be torched regardless of whether I make it. Containment at all costs. And wielding my torch, I release my haul and run for it.