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Fractals

by CJ Miller 10 months ago in Horror · updated 30 days ago
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Nebraska. 1972.

Edith began her nasty little hobby soon after we lost our daughter. Like many things that come to destroy a life, it started off innocently enough.

Following the memorial service, she spent her waking hours in bed with the shades drawn. She gave up church and wouldn't entertain company. It was, in every sense, her dark night of the soul.

I was fortunate. Much as I ached for Margaret, I had work to see me through. Indelicate though it may seem, a farm needs tending even after the Reaper has come a-callin'. My wife had no such purpose. Peggy had been her world.

This was 1960, mind you, before the brassiere burning and we-wanna-work malarkey took hold of our formerly moral nation. Edith kept the house, prepared meals, and doted on her only child. Prior to the yellow, she was a good Christian woman, salt of the earth as they come. With all she's done to me, I would still swear to that.

When she agreed to visit her sister in Omaha for a weekend, I was thrilled. I even offered to buy her a new hat from one of those fancy boutiques on the main drag. Why not? The harvest had been fruitful and my coffers were full.

She declined, too depressed to be taken with luxuries.

On the way back from the city, we stopped into a gift shop to select a card for her mother. I still wonder where I'd be today if we hadn't, if I'd simply taken the other route damn as planned.

She spotted a pair of salt & pepper shakers amid a display, their surfaces decorated in marigolds. I remember her smile, timid but endearing, like a turtle that hadn't dared to stick its neck out in a while. "These are pretty," she said tentatively. "I love the happy colors."

"They're yours, darlin'," I replied, relieved to see her enthusiastic about anything. I even asked the lady behind the counter to tie the box with some yellow ribbon. It matched her purchase perfectly. Edith beamed at me, and for one glorious moment, I thought my gal had survived the worst of it.

Come Christmas, I paid a neighbor to make us a quilt with a marigold pattern. Edith was over the moon, going so far as to kiss me on the mouth. "It's beautiful! Oh, it's just too bright and joyful!"

She smoothed it across our bed with the curtains wide open, light streaming in like honey. From that day on, they were never closed. I truly believed I'd done a righteous deed.

Shortly thereafter, I came inside to find her sketching. Marigolds in the form of a still life.

My praise was sincere. It was a mighty nice job. "Isn't it soothing?" she cooed. "Aren't they the most darling flowers you've ever seen?"

That was 1961, assuming my memory holds up. The following year, let's say she procured fifty more marigolds for her magpie nest. Many came to us via catalogs. Some were from thrift stores or craft fairs. She had acquaintances keep an eye out whenever they traveled, reimbursing them on my dime when they'd return with a trinket.

Over the next decade, she would collect thousands of items with this insufferable motif and hue. They ranged from expensive—a brass candelabra bought at auction—to trash—a used postage stamp. We had cups, utensils, faux floral arrangements. We had pillows, towels, a rug on which to wipe one's feet.

She managed to find no fewer than seven—seven—housedresses with the devil's bud prancing across the weave. When that wasn't enough, she purchased a bolt of fabric and had a local seamstress make two more.

The tablecloth on which I ate breakfast was the color of rot. The wallpaper in our dining room was crawling with sallowed petals fit for a funeral parlor.

She called it cheerful.

Having run out of room in our sizable home, the themed debris started to pile up, floor to ceiling. I would rise in the middle of the night only to have piles collapse on top of me. I had to trip over mustardy junk and wade through golden clutter just to access my meager belongings.

It was all she talked about. Her latest score, her white whale of a find that must be tracked down. Seeing her this unwell, friends drifted away. In our youth, she had been the type of woman who spoke so seldomly but sagely that you'd hang on every word.

Now she babbled, stuttering and repeating herself ad nauseam. Sometimes under her breath so that only the consonants carried on the wind. Sometimes loud and shrill as a banshee.

"I need a sixth bowl!" she screamed at me on the morning it happened. "I need it! Odd numbers will never do!"

Repulsed by my house, I hid in my corn fields. I took my lunch with the crows just to avoid the shell of a woman inside.

The day it happened was the hottest on record in Nebraska for as long as I've been alive. I don't say that as a defense, nor do I owe you such a thing. It's just the God's honest. The sun was a blazing inferno beating down on me from all vantage points.

I tried to keep the sweat from my eyes by giving it a constant mop with my forearm, but it was no use. By noon, I was half-blind from the salty downpour and vicious rays.

With difficulty, I checked my watch again a few minutes later. Three o'clock.

Where did the time go? I will never know.

Lightheaded and queasy, I stumbled into our kitchen. "Surprise!" hitting my eardrums. Edith was standing there in dungarees, a marigold kerchief tied around her straw hair.

She was painting the walls to match a dying man's urine.

Touched by heatstroke, I looked around, horrified by what used to be my sanctuary. The newly yellow room spun like a carny ride run amok. My eyes didn't take in the color so much as they were infected by it, consumed by it, their cones singed by its putrid, insincere mirth. It was in my blood now, under my skin, like jaundice.

Then she laughed. I swear to you, the bitch saw me standing there with napalm burns from her deranged obsession and she laughed at me. Without thought or reservation, I picked up the candelabra and brought it down on her empty belfry. By that stage, even the bats had flown.

She looked at me, a queer expression on her face. So I hit her again, harder this time. What started as a fine crack in her hairline became the San Andreas, but I will spare you the gruesome details. For all of my flaws, justified as they may be, I am still a man of the good book.

She was on the floor, a frail puddle of a thing, crumpled and pathetic. Dizzy, I plopped down next to her, bracing my heavy head in my hands. I must've passed out, for when I came to, it was dark. The sun responsible for this trouble had packed its bags. As a formality, I checked her pulse. Her wrist was stiff and cold. I'm a working man, not a learned physician, but dead is dead.

I wasted no time in formulating a plan. I would keep her in the storm cellar for now, dealing with the situation further if and when I felt up to the task. I threw her over my shoulder and carried her out to the makeshift grave. Not wanting to fall on the way down, I tossed her body onto the landing. If it helps, I did feel a smidge guilty about that later.

When I went back inside our house, now my house, the marigolds were watching. Judging. There were millions of them. They'd multiplied in only a few short hours, I was certain of it. I gathered up everything I could carry and piled it into my wheelbarrow, dumping it into the cellar with its mother. Ha! I repeated the process until there was no energy left in these brittle bones, blessed to be rid of the floral scourge at last. Satisfied, I nailed the door shut.

Unable to look at the radioactive sputum on my walls, I found a can of red paint and hurled it at today's lunacy. Much better. Red! Red was honest. Red was a stand-up pal. It didn't pretend to love you while making you sick.

Stomach growling, I fixed myself supper and turned in, the obnoxious quilt switched out for solid beige. I feared remorse might surface by morning. It did not. In fact, I felt a newfound vigor. My eyes having acclimated, I could see the genuine shade of the sky again! The verdant grass, my cherry vehicle. It was like being baptized in the River Jordan.

I went out back, itching to put in a full day, and came to a halt. In the dirt around the storm cellar, marigolds were growing. Not one or two. Dozens. Tall and proud and fully formed. There hadn't been so much as a seed twelve hours prior.

I almost released my bladder at the sight, and the irony of bringing more yellow into the world prompted a fit of hysterics. While the door remained nailed, Edith, High Priestess of Patterns, had found a way. I should've known better than to think a woman so possessed would take her mania to the beyond.

I hopped into my pickup and punched the gas, dust billowing in my wake. As the old Chevy wheezed down the road, I decided to aim for my brother's place a few towns over. He would keep my secret and help me remove the filth from my property, Edith included. I'd put down lye, make the land inhospitable. Whatever it took.

On the radio, Loretta was singing about standing by your man. At least she knows what matters.

I turned right onto Pease Street, then left at the county fork. I hadn't been out this far in some time and the neighborhood was different than I recalled. Now that I thought about it, I hadn't seen a house for miles.

I made a final turn that should've brought me to the highway. Instead, there was a wooden gate up ahead, half off its hinges. I'd hit it one drunken afternoon about a month ago.

It was my gate. I was back at my farm.

Out of options, I rolled down the drive. That's when I saw it. My corn field was gone. Every stalk. Every acre of blood, sweat, and tears had vanished. In its place were endless rows of marigolds. They cackled at me, their tone identical to my wife's, high and demonic.

They blocked out the blues and greens once more, casting the whole parcel in yellow. Always fucking yellow.

I sit here under its fetid glow, unable to leave, writing Edith's confession and of how I was forced to cope. My shotgun is at the ready. One day, when the color reaches full saturation, I'm sure I will put it to proper use, provided a lack of food doesn't take me first.

If you require honesty, I haven't done so yet out of cowardice. I'm afraid to end this nightmare only to discover that evil is not embodied by a man with horns but rather a blonde woman in an apron, grinning as if she swallowed the yellow-lemon sun.

Horror

About the author

CJ Miller

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