The Right Seed – Max Restaino
July 27, 2021
Just as he pulled the trigger, everything disappeared; the room exploded into a pure white oblivion that faded pink, then red. In his ears, the “WHAM” of a massive detonation that gave way to the eternal scream of dying eardrums. The weight of the gun & feel of the pistol grip evaporated. His teeth, clenched against the barrel & chomping down on the steel as the gun exploded in his mouth. The lead bursting forth tore the bitter taste of gun oil off his tongue. The slug smashed through the base of his skull and splattered dark red against the wall behind him.
Unfortunately for Bill Leonard, the bullet missed anything vital. He was in pain & unable to move. His broken jaw hung open too wide, baring his smashed teeth and shredded tongue; lips blistered under the scalding temperature of the barrel. When his vision faded back, it was still filtered through a lens of oscillating pinks & reds that separated & danced like oil in water. He was lying in a pool of blood that was still growing around his head and shoulders. His eyes craned up and saw the grotesque splatter of his own viscera dripping down the wall towards the floor. Then one of Bill Leonard’s final cohesive thoughts came to him:
“I think I may have fucked this up.”
If he could’ve, he would’ve laughed.
. . .
Bill Leonard shot himself on the 15th of July, 1999, (though it would be several hours between when he pulled the trigger and when he died). The gun he used was purchased decades ago, when he was still living in Manhattan — back when “Welcome to Fear City” pamphlets were more than just fascinating relics of an ancient metropolis felled by greed & the disposal of the city’s most vulnerable residents. Bill thought he knew why he was buying the gun right then. Self-defense was a good enough cover story. But, deep down, he knew that years of those “Numb Nothing Spells” had prepared him for this moment, just as they would once the big day itself arrived. He was still a young man then, full of the vitality the coming decades would rob him of.
It wasn’t until the early afternoon of July 13th, 1999 when he felt the time had finally come. He would do it in his home office on Thursday afternoon; maybe early evening, depending on whether or not he got cold feet. He didn’t think he would.
“Won’t be my problem come the weekend!”
He said it with all the weight of someone who was simply leaving a job they hate, clocking out for the last time after the Thursday shift. Tomorrow, his self-scheduled day off, he’d have plenty of time to get his affairs in order (of which he had rather few.) Even if he didn’t have the time, Bill was never one to feel bad for leaving someone else to hold the bag.
After the decision was made, he watched half of a movie he’d never heard of before turning it off and going to bed. Concentration seemed to have abandoned him.
. . .
Now, still looking through the rose-colored mist that glazed his corneas, paralyzed & bleeding alone in his office, he was struck with the feeling that he’d forgotten to do something. A phone call, maybe, but to who? He couldn’t remember if he’d made any calls yesterday. If yesterday was Wednesday, then it was entirely possible; he could have forgotten someone, maybe someone shopping or someone at church. Not everyone was home on Wednesday (being a workday), but Wednesday was indifferent, and he wondered if Wednesday ever forgot to make one of its calls before going home on Thursday morning to an invisible week of rest.
Bill’s eyes remained fixed on the stain running down the wall. In the oscillating shades that he saw through, the dried blood on the wall faded in and out of existence. In the pink mist it appeared black, and in the red mist it disappeared. The flashing stain matched the rhythm of the thudding whoosh & whistle in his head & ears. He’d blown his pulse onto the wall, and now watched helplessly as it slowed. He wondered if he’d see pink or red once the inevitable came.
. . .
Bill had forgotten something. Not from Wednesday, and not something he’d intended to do. What Bill had forgotten about was a strange encounter he had on Monday; with the oldest woman he’d ever seen. He’d spent the last 15 years divorced & living alone about 100 miles north of the piss-soaked metropolis he called home for so long, in a small, ranch-style house. He had no true neighbors, cut off by about an acre of forest on all sides, the thicket only broken by the dirt path that was his driveway and a stone cave somewhere in the woods behind the house.
It was about noon, and Bill was seated behind his desk, looking through the window across from him. The lush greenery of the forest calmed him, and the view from his desk was surprisingly vibrant. The placement was no coincidence, though he’d never realize that the vista distracted him more than it inspired.
There was movement along the dense tree line. This wasn’t surprising considering the deer population in that area was pestilential. What was surprising was when the branches pushed aside and revealed not a deer, rather a woman, one who appeared to be at least a century old. Her spine curved like an arthritic finger, with her right shoulder bulging like its swollen, distended knuckle. She wore a black cloak and her circumspect walk was aided by a cane. The old woman was slow but approaching Bill’s house just the same.
Jesus, she’s gotta be a thousand fuckin’ years old. Probably thinks she’s back in the old country. Bill thought, aggravated by having to deal with this interruption. He was not a sympathetic person, which he not only knew, but accepted as if it were a trait that made him stronger than others. This is why (among other reasons) his wife left him, and his daughter hasn’t spoken to him in a decade.
When Bill came through the door leading to his backyard, the old Woman was still a good 20 yards from the house. Walking couldn’t be easy at 100 years old. She didn’t acknowledge him as he approached her, his arms crossed.
“Hey!” Bill shouted, trying to get the woman’s attention. Still, she didn’t look up. She knew he was there, and he was close enough now. The old woman kept moving forward.
“Are you lost, ma’am? This is private prop—“
“Miss,” Bill had heard the old woman grunt. She stopped about 5 feet away from him, finally looking up. Her eyes were a cold grey, buried within folds and wrinkles. No teeth or dentures, her lips were sunken in against her gum line. The old woman grinned at Bill, and he was struck by a strange sense of vibrance radiating from her ancient face.
“I’d prefer if you called me ‘miss’ rather than ‘ma’am’ if you’d please.”
Any semblance of a response Bill normally would have mustered evaporated. Her face was ageless & ancient, calming & frightening. The grey iris in her almost hidden left eye had turned blue — or had it always been blue? Bill was certain it hadn’t, but an hour ago he’d been certain he wouldn’t see an ancient woman sauntering through his backyard.
Finally, the words fell out with no authority whatsoever. “You’re trespassing on private property.”
The woman’s laugh was hardy, and she meandered a step, then two steps closer to Bill.
“Hello, officer? Please come arrest The Witch of The Wood!” She said, mocking him, her laughter subsiding. Before Bill could ask her what she was talking about she grabbed his hand, clutching his palm in her brittle fingers. There was something now sandwiched between their skin. Cold, smooth, and solid.
“The right seed for the right farmer.” She said, and pulled her hand away from Bill’s, leaving a flat slab of stone lying on his hand. It was grey with brown speckles, and it had a natural shine like obsidian. He was hypnotized. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t tear his eyes from the stone.
Slowly, shadow began taking over Bill’s vision until it was an all-encompassing blackness.
When his eyes snapped open, he was still sitting at his desk, and early afternoon had darkened into early evening. The sun moved with the slowness of mid-summer, and it was still another hour before the blue sky would begin its warm fade to night.
. . .
On Wednesday afternoon Bill sat at his kitchen table with the telephone in his hand for a long time. The dial tone buzzed dissonantly in his left ear, but his fingers refused to punch in the numbers. Eventually, the recorded operator’s voice — telling him that if he’d like to make his call, he’d have to hang up and try again — exploded through the wasp’s nest beside his head. Bill slapped the switch hook, which plunged into the body of the telephone to reignite the dial tone. He’d planned on calling several people but when he sat down to do it, he realized he didn’t want to.
What was he even planning on saying? Surely he wasn’t going to call up his ex-wife or publisher to say “Catch ya later, alligator!”
In the end, he only ended up making one phone call on Wednesday afternoon. It was to his daughter. His daughter who hadn’t spoken to him in 10 years. He knew she wouldn’t answer, and he was right. He listened to the recording on her answering machine. Bill barely recognized the voice he heard. It had matured so much since the last time she’d spoken to him. It was the voice of a self-possessed & confident woman. Maybe she’d always sounded that way, and this was just the first time he actually listened. He did not leave a message.
Bill spent several hours that night trying to write his note. Whatever he wrote, it couldn’t possibly be enough. Not because he had too much to say, but the opposite. His people would want an explanation, and for that he couldn’t blame them, but would they understand? If he was honest, would it help them grieve? He didn’t know and, ultimately, it didn’t matter. What he came up with was less a suicide note and more an apathetic IOU:
I’m sorry I did this, but you’ll be fine. I’m sorry that I don’t have
a revelatory explanation. Things like this rarely do. The answer, the honest
one, is simple & unsatisfying. I did it because I’m selfish. I wanted to die,
and if you’re reading this then I suppose I got what I wanted.
I hope this helps somehow.
Bill’s note wasn’t found until January of the next year. By then, it didn’t help much at all.
. . .
Thursday morning was almost sunless. The sky was a smattering of dark greys and the ominous rumble of an approaching storm echoed from beyond the abyss of clouds. Bill, who had been awake since 4:30 am, didn’t get out of bed until 9:00. By then, some sunlight permeated the cloud-membrane, but not enough to erase the grey. The decision was made yesterday morning. The mental anesthetic began administering itself sometime around 5:00 am, and by the time Bill got to his kitchen, the internal numbness had fully kicked in, the numbness that allows the clarity needed to see the way out. When you’re depressed, the corridor is full of smoke, and the door at the end of the hall says “EMERGENCY EXIT DO NOT OPEN ALARM WILL SOUND.” It’s locked, but in that numbness you’re finally able to see the window beside it. In case of emergency, break glass & leap.
The building is burning down. Is that not an emergency?
. . .
Dying seemed to be a lot more work than Bill bargained for. Perhaps that was his own fault for expecting an immediate, painless end. The mental anesthetic wore off; Sensation had come creeping back, settling right on the cusp of his awareness. A shrill ringing in his ears screamed through the dull rushing of blood through his veins. The screen of liquid-rose that he was seeing through held true, but comprehension of the shapes on the other side became clearer. Feeling crawled into the tips of his fingers, but nothing more than a faint tingle.
A memory surfaced: Sitting down in his desk chair and pulling the trigger. He did not remember being thrown to the ground by the force of the gunshot. His arms were splayed outward like a referee lazily declaring a field-goal. Movement seemed impossible, but now he could at least focus enough to send that command to his brain. Each individual appendage on Bill’s body had become a 300lb sandbag. An attempt at turning his head resulted in a shot of red-hot agony that exploded across the back of his skull. There was nothing he could do except wait.
But how long had he been lying here already? The way Bill figured, it could have been anywhere from 5 minutes to 5 hours. He could have passed out and mistaken it for a blink. Or maybe he’d died and gone to hell… Paralyzed & dying in pain for eternity did sound pretty torturous.
The tingling sensation continued creeping up his fingers, then crossed to the crease that separates palm from wrist. The tingle grew to a burning before giving way to some genuine feeling. Something smooth & solid lay on his right palm. Far too light to be the gun but, right now, it was impossible for Bill to trust that type of perception. He strained his eyes up and over until his hand came into view through the crimson mist. An icicle of panic impaled his stomach, and he didn’t even notice the shadow that appeared in the doorway.
. . .
While Bill was lying on his office floor, trying to figure out how long he’d been dying for, his unexpected guest was letting itself in through the front door. It was not a man but could have been confused for the grotesque shadow of one. There was a torso with (what looked like) a head, and (appendages that functioned as) arms & legs. That’s where the similarities ended. The thing’s body was made of forest detritus: rotten leaves stewed in rainwater and decomposing animal corpses.
The muck shadow lumbered slow and confident toward the office at the back of the small house, each heavy step leaving behind a scummy blotch on the hardwood floor.
. . .
The first thing that hit Bill was the smell. A chokingly sweet, rotten aroma horrible enough to distract him from the brown speckled stone lying on his palm.
Jesus, I can smell myself rotting, he thought. But now, with eyes drawn away from the stone, he finally noticed the growing shadow on the wall, and the approach of thunderous footsteps that shook the floor beneath him.
The right seed for the right farmer.
It stepped over Bill and stood for a moment, dripping its scum onto his shirt. There was not enough air in Bill’s lungs for him to scream but, in that moment of struggling hyperventilation, he had another of his final, coherent thoughts: “I am dead & in hell.”
The muck creature bent over at what would have been the waist on a person. It reached down, sliding one arm under Bill’s butt, and the other behind his head. Bill’s skin crawled against the frigid sliminess of its touch. He gagged at the rotten smell and, when it lifted him, Bill could feel the coat of viscera on the thing’s body sliding its way into the exit wound on the back of his skull. Bill mustered a scream that sent fissures down his throat. He could feel slime mixing with his plasma. The stone fell from his hand and clattered to the hardwood floor.
The thing threw Bill over its shoulder and steadied him with a scum-bloated excuse for a hand on the small of his back. Bill’s cheek came to rest against the creature’s back and, as it turned towards the door, he was able to see the rest of his office, and the old Woman standing in the corner, smiling toothless.
. . .
The cave’s opening was accessible but other than that, the outcropping of land that housed it was completely hidden by knots & tangles of robust, green vines. The thing that carried Bill entered first, the old Woman following just a few feet behind. The mouth of the cave gave way to a tunnel that descended into the cool layers of earth beneath the forest.
He had no idea how far they’d come. All he could see was the ground below him, and even that was through the tear-inducing stink of the muck man and the crimson death veil his vision had become. The lumbering scum monster came to a halt, throwing Bill to the dirt floor at the Cave’s dead-end. His head collided with the ground in another explosion of pain. It felt as though a line of razor wire was yanked through the bullet wound, exit to entrance.
The redness of his vision pulsed hard before fading back to translucence.
The air was a miasma of rot, cold and humid. The ground underneath him was firm but had the same viscous coating of decay as the monster which carried him. Bill stared at the natural ceiling above him. Almost no light shone, yet he was aware of something there. Something moving towards him.
A shadow settled to his right. Craning his eyes over, he saw the old woman. A wrinkled hand of grey sinew reached out and gently caressed his face. Her skin was soft and reminded Bill of lying in the grass of his grandparent’s upstate New York home as a child. She spoke softly, stroking his cheek, but her voice cut through the screaming ring in his ears; Bypassing his ears drums completely, she spoke into the center of his mind.
“The other day, when we met, I was reminded of a young man I knew longer ago than you’d believe. He, like you, took up residence in the woods of my ancestors and their ancestors. He put down stakes and claimed a space on Our Earth as his own, caring not who may or may not have laid claim to the land before him. He was wrong to do so, and he was taught that lesson, oh yes.” Her smile held strong. The monster was gone, retreated to the cave’s darkness.
“This Earth is Our Earth. It may not be claimed… However, I am a bit of a hypocrite. I suppose that my ancestors have claimed these woods, but if the tradition that I have spent these centuries keeping… Feh, call me a hypocrite.” She shrugged, then stood over Bill, looking directly into his eyes. Past her, he saw the movement from the ceiling becoming closer & clearer. She spoke one last time, at least that Bill heard.
“The right seed…”
From the ceiling of the cave, slowly unfurling towards Bill from the darkness above, a tangle of roots; leathery tentacles, with viscous sap leaking from between plates of bark. They were rough against his skin, and as they wrapped around him, tightly encasing his torso, Bill’s vision became clear for the last time in his life. The tentacle-roots were lifting him from the ground, pulling him toward the gaping maw that hid behind them. A pitch-black orifice, dripping slime from between the thousands of jagged, stone-like teeth that lined its jaw. He couldn’t scream but God how he wanted to. Instead, he closed his eyes and thought: “I definitely fucked this up.”
. . .
It wasn’t until after Christmas when search & rescue teams discovered the dirt driveway. It was hidden by a startling overgrowth of foliage. This, at first, was attributed to a lack of caretaking on the part of the homeowner, but with the amount of growth that occurred, and the fact that it had apparently happened during the deadest of the seasons, terrified them.
It was comforting to believe that Bill Leonard had simply fallen off maintaining his property. That was until they saw the house. Vibrant emerald vines turned the one-story ranch-style home into an unrecognizable heap of greenery, naturally occurring ropes that spun & tangled in and out of each other in impossible patterns.
It would take them 4 weeks to cut through the home’s new armor and access its interior, where they would find Bill’s note waiting patiently on his desk, weighed down by a smooth, brown-speckled stone.