Gwyneth! Can you hear them, Gwyneth! Can you hear them scratching? They are so close, Gwyneth, and when they arrive, as they surely will, they will tear us into tiny pieces! That scratching, that scratching, THAT SCRATCHING below us is THEM! The plants! They’re coming for us! They are downstairs, right now, pushing through doors and walls. They have found the neighbors! The friendly, old couple, the Rothschilds, with the dog, they’re being eaten, right now, as we speak. The plants are tearing their arms and legs from their bodies and wrapping them with their branches and sucking them dry with their roots or dissolving them in the juices of their leaves.
I DON’T KNOW HOW, BUT LISTEN TO THEIR SCREAMS!
Don’t laugh! Please, don’t laugh. I can bear the end of the age, I can bear the violent death of everyone we’ve ever known, but I can’t bear your laughter.
I do love how you laugh, you know I do, you know it lights me up, but not when you laugh AT me. Please, Gwyneth, don’t laugh AT me. Your laugh burns when you laugh at me, like acid, like the venom of a snake. Don’t laugh, don’t burn me, we don’t have much time. I need you to be kind. We must remember to be kind to one another, even though – ESPECIALLY BECAUSE – this is the end.
Like that. Yes. Look at me like that. You smile best when you smile with your mouth closed. I love your teeth, just like I love every part of you – Your toenails! I even love your toenails! – but when you smile with your mouth closed you show such poise, such self-control. It puts me at ease. Your eyes look relaxed. At home. You look at me like that and I know you know me. You’re relaxed because you know me. You’re home. You see me, and you know who I am, and you’re at home with me. We’re going to be okay, Gwyneth. You look at me like that, and I know we’re going to be okay.
The screams are over. The Rothschilds and their dog – Peppermint, I think – they’re in little bits. I heard their bones cracking. Did you here them? I’m sure I heard them. Must have been the large bones, their femurs, probably, that I heard crack. It wasn’t wood, it wasn’t plastic, it was a bone-cracking sound, and not their skulls, a skull would have made a more hollow sound.
I JUST KNOW THESE THINGS, OKAY! I know how bones sound when they crack, Gwyneth! I’m allowed to know things YOU DON’T KNOW, GWYNETH!
I’m sorry. I’m trying to stay relaxed. I know it doesn’t help to get upset. Yes, I am aware that I am the architect of my own misfortune. Yes, I am aware that I poison my own well. Yes, I’ll do my breathing.
I am the banks.
I am the stream.
I am neither of these.
That helps. You always help me. We’re going to be okay, Gwyneth. It’s quiet now. The plants are resting after their feast. The whole city is quiet. Look at it. Can you see? Do you want to be higher? Here. Can you see now? Look at the fires, Gwyneth, and the smoke. Look at the snarled cars, broken windows, and toppled buildings. There are no sirens, no squealing tires, no gunshots or shouts for help. If you listen carefully, you can hear the creaking creep of the vines, and the roots breaking apart concrete. Soon, the plants downstairs will get hungry again and they will come for us.
We could go out the window, and take our chances on the fire escape, but the vines are climbing up the outside of the building and they will find us there.
Climb to the roof? We could climb to the roof, yes, they would reach us there, too, but it would buy us time, and more time with you is all I ever wanted.
Of course I will take you. Why would you ask such a thing? I’ll carry you; you’re not too heavy. Heavier is the thought of taking one step toward the roof without you. Such a thought weighs me down like a boulder tied to my belt.
THEY’RE MOVING AGAIN! Their breaking through the ceiling, they’re climbing up the stairs. Soon, they will burst through the floor and pound at the door! I am not conjuring this fear, Gwyneth! It is real and it is growing and it is going to eat us alive!
But look at you. You’re so calm. Your smile hasn’t budged. Your eyes are so still, so fixed, so certain. You know something, Gwyneth. What do you know? How do you know it? WHY CAN’T I LEARN IT? You’ve tired so hard to teach me, but still I CANNOT LEARN! I have such torment inside me. I welcome the plants. My dismemberment will be a kindness, the only mercy I’ve ever known.
But then I will lose you! No, I must fight for every last second with you. We will go out the window and up to the roof and we will have more time together and we will feel the sun against our faces one final time. Did you see, above the fires and smoke, that it is a beautiful day? I did learn something. I learned to look for the good, Gwyneth. I learned that from you. The sun in the sky is good, and this moment right now is good.
Gwyneth, let me love you one more time. We have just a few moments, but a few moments are all I need. Let me lay you down on the bed. There. My God, look at you. You are, quite literally, the very picture of beauty. Timeless. Torn from the pages of all men’s desires, and now you are here, with me. How could I not consider myself blessed among men?
My love, my Gwyneth, I’d like, in these last minutes that we have, for there to be nothing between us. I am going to remove my clothes. I have time. We have time. It will take the plants some time to break through the floorboards and take down the door. And, besides, it matters not if I have to flee to the roof in all my glory. We are, after all, the last ones left alive. There is no one to see me but you, and from you I have nothing to hide. There. I am ready. You can see I am ready. Look how ripe I am! You make me ripe like that. I’m a seedpod ready to burst at the slightest touch. There is a vine pushing up through the floor in the corner, there are roots crawling underneath the door, but my only concern now is spreading my seed over you! Look at me while I do this. My God, your mouth, your chin, your neck. Yes. Yes. Yes! YES! Oh, God. Oh, GWYNETH.
Did you like that? I thought so. You’re still smiling. There was more than usual, yes, in these heightened circumstances, but I will clean you. I am, above all else, a gentleman, even in the worst of times. I seem to be out of Windex, Gwyneth. It’s been so long since I’ve been able to leave the apartment, the plants have been laying siege for weeks. My love for you is so strong that, even when stressed, I must act upon it at least thrice daily, hence I have been cleaning you often and now the bottle is empty. I’m sorry, my Gwyneth, you may have to remain smudged.
No! Better! Cast off that glass and frame as I have cast off my clothing! Let us go up to the roof, and leave this world as naked as we came into it!
The window is stuck! The heat and humidity has swelled it shut! My arms are aching with the strain, but I can’t budge it! Where is my shirt? Here, I’ll cover my fist and punch through the glass! The door is coming off the hinges! The floor is coming apart in splinters! Let me turn you face down, lest a shard of glass find your eyes.
It’s done, the window is shattered, we can get out, and we must get out for the apartment is now filled with plants. Come, Gwyneth, I will clutch you to my chest and we will make our final climb.
IT’S GOT ME! Halfway out the window and it has my leg! I am hung up, straddling the jagged remains of the window! My pod and sack are inches away from being split in two! But wait … if I can reach the glass I could cut us free …
I HAVE IT! My hand is sliced, but no matter. I slash, I slash, I’M FREE! We’re free! Upward!
What’s that, my Gwyneth? What about the roof? Forgive me, but the wind is strong and you are flapping about in spite of my best efforts. What’s on the roof?
Yes, I now I remember the garden.
I PLANTED IT FOR YOU, GWYNETH! Tomatoes and peppers and apple trees and so many herbs and plants I don’t remember but you said you wanted, and I DID IT FOR YOU SO THAT YOU WOULD BE HAPPY! But you’ve never been happy, have you? HAVE YOU? And now it is waiting to destroy us!
Did you know this would happen? YOU DID, DIDN’T YOU! You knew about the plants all along, and this is a trap! You are luring me into a trap, aren’t you? You were going to let me take you to the roof where I would be eaten alive and you would be rescued.
It’s Chris, isn’t it? Chris is still alive and you still love him and he’s coming for you and he’s going to carry you from the roof in a helicopter and he will will fly you to the most beautiful island where he will sing you golden songs and the plants will let you live because even the plants love Gwyneth. Yes, even the plants wouldn’t hurt the lovely Gwyneth. Well, the plants won’t have to, because I WILL!
TAKE THAT, GWYNETH, AND THAT, AND THAT! You have ruined me, so I must ruin you. Before the plants tear me apart, I am tearing you apart, and the last things I see before the sweet mercy of utter destruction gives me rest at last are the tiny pieces of you fluttering from my fire escape.
Like neither of these.
Matt Lang lives in Chicago with his wife, daughter, and several other people. You can reach him at email@example.com .