Jim had his head so far down in the dirt that he almost didn’t notice when we stumbled into a clearing. Across from us, a small outcropping, no more than two stories tall, thrust up out of the ground. Pouring from a crack in the rock was a spring, pure clear water sparkling in the sunlight as it collected in a pool at the foot of the rock. Wrapped around the rock and twisting into the pool and through the underbrush in the clearing were thick, bright green vines.
They lay there totally unmoving, but I’d seen what they were capable of last night. I half expected one of them to shift to a more comfortable position as we crouched behind a tree trunk. Jim and I turned to look at each other, then down at the long knife he used for clearing brush. When I’d first seen it, it’d seemed like a machete, but now it was small and insignificant.
“We need to get proof,” he said.
“Won’t it react if we cut off a piece?”
“I’m hoping it’s only active at night.”
“Isn’t that the opposite of what you’d expect from a plant?”
“It is awfully green. Maybe it uses photosynthesis during the day and tries to acquire other nutrients during the night.”
“Telling me it prefers to eat people at night isn’t very comforting.”
Even though he looked like he wanted to draw straws for it, in the end Jim hefted his knife and started slinking over to the nearest vine. Flowers sprouted off it at regular intervals, giving off a small taste of the intoxicating smell that’d overpowered us last night. Jim reached for one of the blossoms. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and hissed a warning.
Someone stumbled into the clearing. He was far away and still partly in shadow, so I barely recognized him as one of the sick villagers. As he moved farther into the light, I recoiled. His skin was a sickly greenish grey, and coming out over one shoulder was a flower. At first I thought it was draped over him, but as he turned I saw it was growing out of an open wound on his back. Yellow pus oozed down his spine and as I watched, the vine wormed another inch or two farther out of his body.
The only thing that managed to pull our eyes away from the gruesome sight was the sound of more movement in the underbrush. More villagers came out into the clearing, each in different states of decay as the vines grew from their flesh. A twig cracked behind me and I turned around slowly. The old lady from last night was there staring at me with one eye. A vine was twisting its way out of the socket where the other had been.